When did become OK to drop the comma after a state?
April 25, 2013 3:24 PM   Subscribe

In the past week or so I have seen numerous constructions like this headline and lead sentence ("Erik Loomis argues that the reason we don’t see more tragedies like West, Texas is because the US has outsourced industries to places like Bangladesh..."). Should there not be a comma after "Texas" in that headline and sentence? I have even had writers tell me that editors (on internet sites) have actively removed the second comma in a mid-sentence "Cityname, State, ... " construction. Is it not still "West, Texas, ..."? Punctuation police—can we get a ruling? Are standards shifting, or is this just a case of bad editing?
posted by stargell to Writing & Language (30 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm suspicious of your premise that "City, State," would have a second comma without some other reason related to the sentence's structure. That doesn't seem correct to me, but examples of this are rare enough that it's hard finding instances either way.
posted by kavasa at 3:30 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

From a sentence structure standpoint, no, there should not be a comma after Texas; it's all the same clause. Style guides may vary, but if they vary on that point, throw them out.

Are you under the impression that City-comma-State-comma is standard regardless of context? It's not and never has been.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:30 PM on April 25, 2013 [6 favorites]

There shouldn't be any comma in there but "west(ern) Texas" is not the same as West, TX.

And the Post Office says you shouldn't put one in there.

posted by bensherman at 3:30 PM on April 25, 2013

I have never heard of this rule. I do know that standards are shifting in general and that commas between city and state names are less consistently used - "Albany NY" rather than "Albany, NY" - but after a state name, by default? Not unless the sentence structure required it anyway.
posted by Tomorrowful at 3:31 PM on April 25, 2013

Yes, there should be a comma after "Texas" in that sentence, per Chicago Manual of Style (16th ed., 6.17). AP Style guides headline writing and most journalism, though, so I can't speak to whether their rule has changed or if this is just a case of bad proofreading.
posted by scody at 3:32 PM on April 25, 2013 [16 favorites]

it looks correct to me. i don't know of a grammar rule that would require a comma after a state in that headline you posted. can you provide a source for this as an existing grammar rule from somewhere?

on preview scody provided the reference. i would not be surprised if the rule has changed. i was never taught this and i'm not that young.
posted by wildflower at 3:35 PM on April 25, 2013

I had never heard of including a comma after a state of country name either. So I did some research, and it turns out that the AP style guide and the Chicago manual agree with you, stargell: always use a comma after the state or country. The idea is that it's like a parenthetical. I can't find any style guide that specifically says not to do so!

It's very hard to do punctuation usage searches in Google Ngrams since they scrub punctuation from their data; otherwise I'd recommend that.
posted by goingonit at 3:36 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

There should not be a comma after Texas in that sentence, and, according to most style guides, never should have been. Perhaps the Chicago Manual of Style does require one, though - I am not familiar with it (I have used AP and APA).

I think it's a poorly-written sentence because "West, Texas" is not yet a colloquial "tragedy." I'd have edited to say "we don't see more tragedies like the recent explosion in West, Texas is..."
posted by amaire at 3:37 PM on April 25, 2013

Here's specifically what CMS states:
6.17: Commas in pairs. Whenever a comma is used to set off an element (such as "1928" or "Minnesota" in the first two examples below), a second comma is required if the phrase or sentence continues beyond the element being set off. [...]

June 5, 1928, lives on in the memories of only a handful of us.

Sledding in Duluth, Minnesota, is facilitated by that city's hills and frigid winters.
posted by scody at 3:38 PM on April 25, 2013 [15 favorites]

AP also appears to require state names to be set off with commas in running text (and I'm already with scody on CMS).

"Plase [SIC!!!] one comma between the city and the state name, and another comma after the state name, unless ending a sentence or indicating a dateline."
posted by drlith at 3:38 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

I agree that the major style guides do call for a comma after the state (as well as after the year in a full date--"the explosion on April 17, 2013, claimed 14 lives..."). But lately even newspapers have been laying off copy editors, so it doesn't surprise me that a blog wouldn't adhere to AP style.
posted by payoto at 3:38 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

I stand corrected!
posted by amaire at 3:40 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

...I have today learned an important lesson about style guides not always matching what looks right to me on the page.
posted by Tomorrowful at 3:43 PM on April 25, 2013 [4 favorites]

*eats deep dish humble pie*
posted by Sys Rq at 3:44 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's like "My sister, Jane, ate lunch." The second word modifies the first -- Paris, Texas, is distinguished from Paris, France. I know grammar doesn't always work systematically, but here is a systematic explanation just in case one is helpful.

It also helps readers because it gives redundant information that the first comma isn't a mistake, so it looks more like a town name.
posted by amtho at 3:48 PM on April 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

The CMS logic seems faulty. Paired commas used in that way usually indicate the distinction between restrictive and unrestrictive clauses. Amtho's above would be correct if the speaker has only one sister, Jane. If two, then it would be, "My sister Jane ate lunch [but my sister Anne didn't]. By the same logic we should actually write June 5 1928 since there is more than one June 5. But who wants to argue that punctuation must be logical? Not me. Or for that matter, grammar? Not I!
posted by mono blanco at 4:21 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

This isn't about grammar. It's about convention. I see no need to use a comma after the state.

Of course, if you're required to follow a guidebook that says otherwise, then that's what you have to do. But it isn't required by general standards of good punctuation.

When I refer to "my Madison, WI home," have I improperly exposed the right side of Wisconsin, and do I need to fix this problem by safely enclosing it with commas on both sides? I don't think so. The placement of a comma between a city and state is not required by grammar; it's a visual convention. It signals to the reader: here's the name of a city, followed by the name of the state. One comma is sufficient to let you know where the city name ends and where the state name begins. Once that job is accomplished, you don't need a comma after "WI." To me, using the second comma there would be just as awkward as writing "my Wisconsin, home."
posted by John Cohen at 4:35 PM on April 25, 2013

Of course you need two commas, just as you would need two parentheses if you wrote "I love Paris (Texas), but I love Paris (France) even more." Not that you would likely ever write that sentence, but it illustrates the idea.

When you write about your home in Madison, you add Wisconsin to distinguish it from all the other Madisons. It works the same as an independent clause set off by commas.
posted by Longtime Listener at 4:48 PM on April 25, 2013 [8 favorites]

Longtime Listener is right: "Wisconsin," in that context, functions like a nonrestrictive appositive or clause. And in English we set off nonrestrictive appositives, nonrestrctive clauses, parenthetical and descriptive phrases, etc. by using paired commas. So setting off Wisconsin with commas on either side in that sentence is actually "required by general standards of good punctuation," not some prissy or obscure rule invented by a few style guides used only by specialists.

See, for example, The Copyeditor's Handbook (2nd ed., p. 99: "In expressions of the form 'City, State,' place commas before and after the name of the state"); Grammar Girl's discussion of semicolons vs. commas; English Grammar for Dummies ("If there is no street address —just a city and a state — put a comma between the city and the state. If the sentence continues after the state name, place a comma after the state"), etc.
posted by scody at 5:43 PM on April 25, 2013 [8 favorites]

I'm amazed at how many people *don't* know this rule, and I'm not all that particularly good at grammar. Yes, the comma is always needed in that case for the reasons Longtime Listener specifies. The comma isn't always just "a place to pause" as we learned when we learned how to read. It also sets things apart. If there is a comma before the state, there needs to be one after it.

"The explosion in Western Texas was a tragedy" (Fine because Texas is the point, and Western modifies it.)

"The explosion in Texas was a tragedy." (Also correct because Texas is the point.)

"The explosion in Texas, was a tragedy." (Not correct because, there is no reason for the comma. Just like in the previous sentence.)

"The explosion in Springfield, Texas, was a tragedy." (Also correct.)

The post office doesn't need or want a comma because 1) it messes with their OCR machinery and 2) an address isn't a sentence.
posted by gjc at 6:21 PM on April 25, 2013 [7 favorites]

It's a parenthetical phrase. Using the commas properly (both of them) makes things clearer in general. To play off the last example, "The explosion in Springfield, Texas was a tragedy" is too easy to read as saying "Texas was a tragedy" until you backtrack.

Now, if we're being picky, postal abbreviations also don't belong in news copy.
posted by pengale at 7:06 PM on April 25, 2013

This NYT column (linked from this AskMe) discusses the issue.
posted by Lexica at 7:08 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Economist Style Guide requires the comma:
American states: commas are essential (and often left out) after the names of American states when these are written as though they were part of an address: Kansas City, Kansas, proves that even Kansas City needn’t always be Missourible (Ogden Nash). If the clause ends with a bracket, but is not the end of a sentence, which is not uncommon (this one does), the bracket should be followed by a comma.
(Tenth Edition p. 121)
posted by thebestsophist at 11:22 PM on April 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

incorrect as per MLA as well, I believe.
posted by angrycat at 4:40 AM on April 26, 2013

The whole sentence is just terrible, including, "the reason...is because."
posted by Dolley at 6:09 AM on April 26, 2013

There should be a comma.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:11 AM on April 26, 2013

Back in my day we always put a comma after the state. And we liked it that way!
posted by spilon at 7:37 AM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've increasingly been wanting to scream about this as I see fewer and fewer people use the required comma after the state. But then, I'm an editor. The basic comma rules I was taught way, way back when I was a kid still apply: parenthetical expressions (including nonrestrictive relative clauses) are set off by commas. For example:

There was a song about Gary, Indiana, in "The Music Man."

The meeting will be Wednesday, May 17, 2013, in the conference room.

If you care at all about my blood pressure, use the commas correctly. We'll deal with apostrophes in another question.
posted by bryon at 10:16 PM on April 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Those espousing the use of the comma may want to note that as of now Wikipedia has named their article about the ten-year-abduction case 2013 Cleveland, Ohio, missing trio [subject, as always, to debate and change].
posted by dhartung at 11:41 PM on May 7, 2013

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