Monday, January 30, 2012

Curse you comma

The comma. One of those pieces of punctuation that can be a pest. Really, these little buggers are magicians. I swear. I think I put them in the right place, but it's not always the right place. Then, they seem to move or disappear. I'm sure it's my brain playing these tricks, but commas can be confusing.

For some of you, using the comma is as easy as putting on a sock. For the rest of us, it's like solving a really difficult trigonometry problem. So, what's a comma?

I hear you snicker. I'm serious here.

Definition: Comma--(Thanks to for the definition.)
1. A punctuation mark ( , ) used to indicate a separation of ideas or of elements within the structure of a sentence.
2. A pause or separation; a caesura.
There's also a type of butterfly, but I'm not talking about nature today.

We use this little mark everyday. How? Maybe you need to write the date. January 30, 2012. Maybe you received a huge advance--$500,000. Nice, right? But I'm in the process of going through line edits and I'm trying to make my sentences stronger. Plus, I don't want to look like an idiot.
Let's start out with a simple use.

-- Separating items in a series. You'll need pencils, erasers, and paper.

Okay, maybe that's obvious. Easy peasy, right? What about this one:

--Separating main clauses linked by a coordinating conjunction. I see your blank stare. Here's an example: My ears ached, and my chest hurt. Two clauses that make sense on their own linked by a coordinating conjunction--for, and, or, so, but, nor, yet.

Let's take a peek at some more.

--Separating coordinate adjectives. The short, pointy sword sat on the shelf. The rule is if you can place an and in between them, or you can switch the adjectives around and they still make sense, then a comma is the way to go.

--Setting off nonrestrictive elements and clauses. Nonrestrictive element--Emma, who is from England, lives in West Chester. The element that's set off by commas is added information and can be omitted without changing the meaning of the sentence.
Nonrestrictive clause--She hated his lectures, which could last for hours. These are clauses or phrases that act as adjectives or adverbs to the main clause.

--Setting off most introductory elements. Unfortunately, his car ran out of gas. Unfortunately is modifying the clause that follows.
--Before and after direct speech. "I'll meet you at the diner," he said. I don't think I need to elaborate on this one.

See, the comma can be your friend. I know I blew through those faster than a cheetah chasing it's prey, but these are the more obvious uses. On Wednesday, I will go through more examples.

Meanwhile, check out the links below for more comma info:

Commas/Punctuation rules.

The comma is a mysterious thing, but knowing some simple rules can alleviate some headaches. I hope. :)

Do you get confused with the magical comma?

Thanks to the THE LITTLE BROWN HANDBOOK by H. Ramsey Fowler and Jane E. Aaron, and IT WAS THE BEST OF SENTENCES. IT WAS THE WORST OF SENTENCES., by June Casagrande. I used them for my research. :)

Have a great day!


  1. The comma is my friend!
    Semi-colons confuse me. That's why I just don't use them.

  2. Nice post! Personally, this is one element of punctuation I like. It's the M-dash that I always have to chop out of my manuscripts. :)

  3. I swear my commas move around in my ms when I turn off the computer. I'm always have to add them or remove them and can't figure out why I would have put them or not put them there in the first place. That's why I'm positive I have gremlins in my computer, messing with my commas. :D

  4. And yet even with these rules commas are subjective when it comes to fiction writing and style, unless it screws up the intent of the sentence.

    And yes commas go between two adjective but I don't believe there would be one between smooth and black. Because you would never say the black and smooth sword, which means black is the stronger adjective and thus no comma. :)

    I agree with Alex -semi colons are annoying!

  5. Fighting with commas is my main goal every day. I once took an hour on one sentence because of one comma. Finally I got so peeved with my indecision I took the whole sentence out.

  6. I use way, way too many commas. I can't help it. If you need to breathe, you need a comma :-)

  7. You know a lot of these comma rules are actually optional,(i.e. the last comma before "and" in a series) but I've learned if you exclude an optional comma the whole world will call you on it.

  8. What a great breakdown! I always just try to use them in ways that sound right.

  9. Oh, commas. I swear they can reproduce on their own. Thanks for reminding me of the rules!

  10. See, I don't use a comma after "Unfortunately...". I also don' use them before "because." I'm picky about my commas. : )

  11. Hahaha! Me and commas are really good friends. I just love throwing commas around. Sure, pause here, okay! But I'm often wrong. Or when I think a sentence doesn't need a pause/comma, but it really does? *sigh* oh well! Thanks for the really good breakdown!

  12. I haven't ever really had a problem with commas but I know that they are the villain of many people's writing.

  13. I frequently use commas in places where I don't need them -- places where my thinking has paused, I think! Then I take them out later when I read and polish what I've written.

    As for my 5th grade students -- they can't tell the difference between an apostrophe and a comma. "That comma in the air" -- that's what they call an apostrophe.

    Head. Desk. Thunk.

  14. When I first started writing, I was a huge comma whore. But as I would go through edits from my crit partners, I started to pay more attention to where to place my commas. I think I'm much more conscientious, and maybe a bit better at it now than when I started.

  15. Oh, comma. Are you Oxford or regular? We'll never know. Hee hee!

  16. hi miss christine! yikes! all that stuff for just that little comma. ack! im pretty lucky cause one of my brothers edits out my writing and hes soooo picky bout grammar and punk stuff. for me i just read it out loud and put a comma where i do a pause and mostly it comes out pretty good. but for sure you post is gonna teach me how to do it way better. :)
    ...hugs from lenny

  17. I totally know what you mean! Sometimes I find myself wanting to put in a comma because I'd pause there if I read it out loud. He he. Not really the thing to do. :)