Those Pesky Commas

When and where do you put them?

The answer, of course, is it all depends. However, never forget the old adage:  When in doubt, leave out.

But there are some hard and fast rules, you need to keep in mind. One is the use of connecting conjunctions, such as and, but, or, nor, for and yet, with independent and dependent clauses.

Independent clauses stand alone and include subjects and verbs. We are visiting Washington. We also plan a side trip to Williamsburg. If put together, they need a comma. We are visiting Washington, and we also plan a side trip to Williamsburg.

Though, a comma is not required if the independent clauses are short and joined by one of the conjunctions. I’ll go this way and you go that way.

However, when an independent clause is joined with a dependent clause, such as a clause with an understood subject (we as in this sentence), no comma is necessary. We are visiting Washington and plan to see the White House.

Non-essential clauses (not essential to the meaning of the sentence according to the author’s intent) are set off by commas. Example: Reporters, who do not read the stylebook, should not criticize their editors.

Long introductory clauses or phrases, need commas. (Remember a phrase is a group of words without a subject or verb.) Above the sidewalk and around the bend, there sits a thicket of trees.

Introductory words – yes and no – require commas. Yes, I will be there. In addition, use commas after a direct address like Mother, I …

Commas in a simple series are disputed. Some grammar books suggest a comma before the last conjunction. My Associated Press Stylebook requires none. The flag is red, white and blue.

A comma is needed after an introductory direct quote. Wallace said, “She spent …” But a direct quote of more than one sentence, a colon is required. And, place a comma after dialogue tags. “Say,” she added, “wouldn’t you like to have your picture taken?” Note: Commas always go inside quotation marks, according to my stylebook.

Place commas after an individual’s age. Maude Findlay, 48, … Use commas also after hometowns and states. Omaha, Nebraska. AP guidelines use abbreviations for states in journalist writing and require a comma after them. Example:  Maude Findlay, 48, Omaha, Neb., arrived today.

Well, one more thing. Two adjectives before a noun of equal weight require a comma. Thoughtful, precise person … Otherwise, hyphen the adjectives before the noun, such as an easy-remembered rule, except these really are not easily remembered. My suggestion is have several grammar books at your workplace and always have someone versed in grammar proofread your manuscript.

Also, don’t forget to place commas in numbers. When you make your first 200,000 sales, thank the Lord for your success and as always God bless.

14 thoughts on “Those Pesky Commas

  1. staceywilk May 28, 2013 / 7:07 pm

    Thank you for this post. Someone recently told me I didn’t need commas in between adjectives of the same weight that describe a noun. But I’ve always known it the way you posted. That makes me feel better. At least I was paying attention to something!

    • janetsyasnitsick May 28, 2013 / 7:14 pm

      I am glad it clarified this for you. Posting this helped me revive these rules in my mind. God bless.

  2. rami ungar the writer May 28, 2013 / 7:17 pm

    Usually in my first draft, there are more commas than needed. The second and third drafts I usually get rid of them, though.

  3. DLHartmann - Reviews and Interviews May 28, 2013 / 7:37 pm

    Reblogged this on The Pro Book Editor and commented:
    Nice article! Had to share with my readers…

  4. katemsparkes May 28, 2013 / 8:07 pm

    I always use the comma before the conjunction in a simple series. A friend and I want to have t-shirts printed that say “OXFORD COMMA 4 LYFE.” I think it makes things clearer (red, white, and blue indicates equal amounts of all three colours, while red, white and blue indicates mostly red with white and blue bits). It’s all in how you read it, I guess, but without the comma I see the words before and after the “and” as more closely linked to one another than to the other items on the list.

    Isn’t punctuation fun? 🙂

    • katemsparkes May 28, 2013 / 8:07 pm

      (and I’m NOT saying I think everyone has to use this comma! Just saying I like to.)

  5. Gwen May 29, 2013 / 9:40 am

    Helpful reminders! Thank you.

  6. SoundOfLaughter June 5, 2013 / 12:22 pm

    Thanks for the guidelines. I am sure the word comma in some language means conundrum.

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