Monday, August 25, 2014

CONQUERING THE COMMA

By Andrea Merrell

Today’s lesson is how to conquer the comma conundrum in three easy steps.

NOT!

Unfortunately, there are no easy steps in mastering the use of this tiny punctuation mark. We can simply learn the rules, follow them the best we can, and hope for success. Sound strange coming from an editor? To be perfectly honest, all professional editors have areas that cause headaches and proper use of the comma is one of the biggest.

Lets look at a few examples that will help you in your writing.

Serial Comma
Use a comma to separate words/phrases in groups of three or more.
Incorrect: Maggie went to the circus with her sister, her mother and her best friend.
Correct: Maggie went to the circus with her sister, her mother, and her best friend.

The first sentence is incorrect because it can be misread, causing the reader to think Maggie’s mother is her best friend. Not all sentences will be misleading without the serial comma, but the best rule of thumb is to always use it in your writing to avoid confusion.

Exception: Many online venues use the AP Stylebook which does not use the serial comma, even when the sentence may be misleading.

Comma Splice
Joining two clauses together with only a comma instead of a conjunction or semicolon causes a comma splice or spliced comma.
Incorrect: Phillip loves attending conferences, he attends one every year.
Correct:  Phillip loves attending conferences; he attends one every year.
Correct: Phillip loves attending conferences, and he attends one every year.
Correct: Phillip loves attending conferences. He attends one every year.

Sometimes a comma splice is appropriate, as in: He came, he saw, he conquered. They can be used, especially in dialogue, but use them wisely and sparingly.

Commas with Independent Clauses
Use a comma to separate two independent clauses that are connected by a conjunction.
Incorrect: Susie went to the closest grocery store and she picked up items for the party.
Correct: Susie went to the closest grocery store, and she picked up items for the party.

Exception: If the sentence is short enough, the comma before the conjunction is not necessary. This is where you have to make a judgment call.
Example: Susie went shopping and she picked up party items.

Commas with Dependent Clauses
A comma is not necessary with two dependent clauses.
Incorrect: Susie went to the grocery store, and picked up items for the party,
Correct: Susie went to the grocery store and picked up items for the party,

The comma is not necessary because “picked up items for the party” is not a complete sentence.

Comma Before Too
A comma is not necessary when the word too is used at the end of a sentence. It is only used when you need to emphasize an abrupt change in thought.
Incorrect: Stan wanted to be part of the faculty this year, too.
Correct: Stan wanted to be part of the faculty this year too.

There are a number of rules for commas that pertain to:
·       Numbers
·       Dates
·       Cities and states
·       Other punctuation
·       Exclamations
·       Interjections
·       Introductory phrases
·       Multiple adjectives


As an editor, these are some of the common mistakes I see writers make. I would love to hear your thoughts about how you conquer the comma.

TWEETABLES




(Photos courtesy of robbieblair.com and the philfactor.com.) 

4 comments:

  1. I just sent out a manuscript to beta readers and they all offer different suggestions on how to use commas. This post came at the most opportune time. Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for sharing. I'm sure other people have faced the same dilemma. Even experienced editors will sometimes differ on the use of comma. Thus the conundrum. :)

      Delete
  2. Well, I use commas, and I use periods, but not well, or should that be good? That's why I have Alycia Morales!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Great point, Warren. Alycia Morales rocks! :)

    ReplyDelete

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