Posted by: Jodi | April 28, 2010

The Comma, Clarified.

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!

< To see last week’s language usage post, click here

To see all technical writing posts, click here

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Responses

  1. Love it, as always.
    And, if you don’t mind the shameless plug, consider my own “Don’t Fear the Comma”, http://uphillwriting.org/2010/02/08/dont-fear-the-comma/

  2. Isn’t there a song about commas:

    “Comma, comma, comma, comma, comma chameleon . . . she comes and goes . . . ” : )

    Cheers!

    • Thanks for the laugh, I needed it!

  3. Hey nrhatch…isn’t that the way the song really goes? Of course it must be. Misquoting could bring you some bad karma! 😀

  4. Oh! I forgot to add one thing! Many years ago I was attending a group psychic reading. I was told that I had a comic marriage – which I though odd, but, accepted it, as my husband and I both loved to laugh and crack wise. I did not take into account that she was British, and was actually telling us that we had a “karmic” marriage…destined to go on for many lifetimes…which, although we might enjoy that, this life was enough for now! (We’ve been married 35 years this October…guess it took this time.)

    • Congratulations on the karmic marriage – that is a rare feat these days.

  5. […] The Comma, Clarified – A handy resource for comma rules. […]

  6. Oh, I so need this. I am awful about throwing commas in where ever, I think, they might belong, and using them inappropriately, too. Hee Hee!

    • It’s okay to be a little comma happy, but that – that’s just wrong on all levels. Very funny!


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