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. 

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About janetsyasnitsick

Visit blog for writing, marketing tidbits to dazzle your creative endeavors. New book: Courtships and Carriages, a sweet Christian romance, (two proposals but who wins Gwen's heart?). Other works: Ruth Ann Nordin's and Janet Syas Nitsick's anthology, Bride by Arrangement; Janet's five-star, inspiring-historical romance, Lockets and Lanterns; 10th place story, "The Silver Lining;" and Best of Year book, Seasons of the Soul. Background: former journalist and language-arts teacher. www.JanetSyasNitsick.com
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7 Responses to Those Pesky Commas

  1. Thanks, Janet. Other members of our Christian Poets & Writers group on Facebook will welcome this, too, so I highlighted your posting on the Christian Poets & Writers blog. God bless.

  2. Great post! We need to spread the word about the importance of correct punctuation! I tend to use too many commas, especially in long sentences where I want the reader to be able to pause and take a breath. I also learned (years ago) that sentences beginning with “if” and “when” require a comma at the end of the phrase. That might fall under the category of “introductory phrases,” I guess.

  3. John Martin says:

    In reality, great fiction does not depend on commas, hyphes , dashes etc. in the right places. However, it may be wise not to annoy your reader. He/she may write better than you.

    • Great fiction that is long-lasting does require correct punctuation. Also, there are former English teachers or other authors who know the difference so you need to keep that in mind. God bless.

  4. Pingback: Cozy Chat with the Author Janet Syas Nitsick | BookwormSimi

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