I could spend a very long time to write in my own words what so many people have already written about comma usage. In fact, I just spent an hour trying to do just that, which was far more than any sane human should. It was when I realized that I sounded like my 7th grade English teacher that I decided it was a great time to call it quits.
Here are three excellent sites that explain in technical terms where and when to properly use a comma:
Purdue University OWL: Quick Comma Rules – A quick explanation of the basics.
Grammarbook: Punctuation rules – Comma – A very clear explanation of ALL comma rules.
Wikipedia: Comma – in addition to all the many usage rules and examples, it has a nifty history section.
So yes, there are definite rules that are followed; but you can use a comma anywhere you feel it will clarify the meaning of a phrase.
My biggest comma pitfalls are –
- Using a comma to join two mini sentences together without one of the “joiner” words (and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet). In that instance one would use a semicolon.
- Forgetting where the commas go when punctuating dialogue. Use a comma to separate the text from the quote, and punctuation ALWAYS goes inside the quotation marks.
- Thinking that a long sentence needs a comma even when it is technically correct without.
- Forgetting to offset a name or title with commas when someone is directly addressed. “June, will you pass the peas?” or, “Will you, Sir, take off your hat?”
- Getting comma happy to add dramatic pauses in a sentence. A little drama here and there is alright, but use it too often and you start sounding like William Shatner. “Must, get off, this confounded, planet…”
As always, Happy Writing!
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