To Comma or not to Comma

comma2I have a friend whose theory of commas is this: Sprinkle a lot of commas in your story.

No. Follow the usual rules:

  • Use a comma after an introductory word, phrase or clause. e.g. After she wrote a chapter, she went out for a run.
  • Use a comma before the conjunction that joins two independent clauses. e.g. Snake owes me 10 large, and I’m on my way to punch out his lights.
  • Use a comma to separate a direct address from the rest of the sentence. e.g.“I’m telling you, Sam, I need a room to work in.”
  • Use commas to separate items in a series. We know this rule from childhood. But good practice is to put a comma after the next to last in the series as well. e.g.  At the gas station, I filled up my tank, paid $106.29, went into the convenience store, and bought a few things. When I left the store, I had a Twinkie, a donut, a candy bar, and ten lottery tickets.
  • Use commas to set off nonrestrictive clauses from the rest of the sentence. So what is a nonrestrictive clause?  If the clause were taken out of the sentence, the sentence would maintain its original meaning. My comma rule book gives this example: Several politicians, lawyers, and business leaders attended the conference, which began at 2 PM. The last clause is the nonrestrictive clause. You can take it out of the sentence and the meaning would stay the same.comma1

A simpler rule for commas is to read your work out loud. You’ll hear the commas. Try it.

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2 responses to “To Comma or not to Comma

  1. That’ll get them by, Ed. Of course, practices vary from publishing house to pub’g house, and even within the same house over time. In general, the trend is towards less commas, and the genre of the work also has an influence, e.g. there are usually less commas in a murder mystery, more in a literary work.
    Over here in Australia, we don’t use the last comma in a list, and if the introductory clause does not contain a verb, there’s often no comma.
    Where the non restrictive clause is concerned, writers can often get tangled up when the clause introduces a second sentence, and the two sentences are joined by and. For example:
    We arrived at the gallery mid-morning and, because it was not yet open, spent the next hour in a nearby bookshop
    We arrived at the gallery mid-morning, and because it was not yet open, spent the next hour in a nearby bookshop

    • Hey, Danielle, that’s some interesting stuff — where commas are used more often and less often. As for the restrictive clause, my nineteenth sense or something, said add the noun in the next part– we waited

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