The Common Comma

There are a million rules out there, okay maybe not a million.  In writing though, there are a few that repeat all the time.  Starting out writing, if you weren’t an English major, can be difficult.  When do you use a comma in writing?  I am by no means an expert, but I have found some useful rules that made my life easier.  This list is not exhaustive, but it has the rules that I most commonly use in writing.

First things first: a common is not meant to join independent clauses, it is meant to separate.  Semicolons are the opposite.

  •  When you write a list of descriptive words use a comma.  Mary decided that she needed new shoes, a new purse, and a new dress.
  • Use a comma when you have two or more adjectives in a row to avoid confusion.  He was a short, balding man. If you can put an and between the words add a comma.
  • Use a comma when writing a tag line followed by an action.  “Please don’t do that,” said Liz, jumping off the couch.  OR “Why do you need that,” she asked, still not understanding.
  • Don’t use a comma when the tag line includes a descriptive word.  “Sorry,” Lisa said sadly.
  • Don’t take two independent clauses and join them without a conjunction. (The comma-splice)  Conjunctions: “and, but, nor, for, so, yet” or subordinating conjunctions: “after, although, because, before, how, if, once…”  Examples.  Fred couldn’t understand why Liz was so mad, but he certainly understand why she wouldn’t be happy.
  •  Use a comma to separate and introductory statement.  Before she could get into the car, the heavens opened and drenched her new shoes.
  • Use a comma to separate a parenthetical element.  (I know what the heck is that?) These are the statements that could be removed from a sentence without changing the meaning.  Liz was wearing blue, which was her favorite color, knowing that Frank loved her in it.
  • When offsetting quotes use a comma.  “What I really want to know,” said Liz, “ is whether or not you are planning to take me to the dance.”
  • Don’t use a comma with quoted items.  As my mother always says “don’t count your chickens before they hatch.”

 What comma rules do you use that are not on my list?  Or do you have a question on the use of a comma that maybe myself or one of my readers can answer?

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2 thoughts on “The Common Comma

  1. juliesanocki says:

    When I’m writing dialogue and the grammar doesn’t have to be perfect, I use a comma where there would be a pause if it were spoken. It isn’t a perfect rule, but it does the job.

    • M. Ziegler says:

      I used to do that and thought the same thing. Granted I am yet to be published, but I got a few too many scathing ‘helpful’ critiques to continue on my little old way. I still am no where near perfect but I am trying.

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