Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Does Grammar Leave You Comma-tose?

Recently after realizing how far I’d strayed from being “comma-tically” correct, I sent my manuscript for a grammar edit. There are many rules about commas however due to space constraints I’m limited to sharing five.

RULE # 1: Use a comma to separate a prepositional phrase if it makes the sentence easier to read or clarifies the meaning. Technically, you could omit the comma in my above opening sentence and it would still be correct, except for the nonexistent word “comma-tically.”

Since I was in a time crunch I’m eternally grateful to Sarah for performing that editing feat, however, I thought it was time I brushed up on my grammar and hopefully some reader will benefit.

RULE # 2: Place a comma before and after a conjunctive adverb that falls amidst other words in the sentence. “However” is the conjunctive adverb which affects the entire clause not just one verb.

Those who love commas know where to put them, but those who don’t would like to make a few suggestions.

RULE #3: A comma separates two independent clauses joined by a coordinating or correlating conjunction. Don’t let the big words confuse you. They mean the two clauses are conjoined at the “but.”

English teachers, grammar police, and left-brain fanatics love the order that commas bring to a sentence. Agents looking for professionally prepared manuscripts, editors wanting the next best seller, and your Grandpa seeking a delicious lunch also think commas are important. (It sounds weird, but stay with me.)

RULE # 4: Commas separate items in a series of three or more words, phrases, or clauses.

If you still don’t believe commas are important, compare the examples below. I’m positive Grandpa has a definite opinion about comma placement and you would, too, in this instance.

Let’s eat Grandpa
Let’s eat, Grandpa

RULE # 5: A comma offsets a noun in a direct address.

It is plain to see the mild-mannered and ordinary comma can save lives. Given this truth, we should all be grateful for grammar, grammar police, and the fact that we don’t have to verbalize commas when we speak or we’d all be covered in spit.

What are the comma frustrations you face?


  1. Great reminders and cleverly presented! I LOVE commas myself -- they make reading so much easier. (But I love dashes even more.) :-)

  2. Ahhhh, I love grammar and punctuation! Vocabulary. Sentence constructions. Transitions. You name it, I love it, if it has to do with writing.

    Yep, I'm a grammar freak, and, um, guess what? Rule 2 should be corrected to state that a semi-colon precedes the "however," and then it is followed by a comma. Oh dear,I just couldn't resist that....

  3. Good post, Mary! Comma usage, yes, has changed since I had sentence diagraming (is that done anymore?). I like less use of the little thing unless understanding is compromised.

  4. Grandpa and I love this!

    Seriously, the comma problem haunts almost every piece I write or edit. Thanks for some quick, sensible reminders.

  5. I knew there would be a correction needed in there somewhere. Now the mystery is solved.

    Thanks, Jude, for pointing out there have been many changes since we went to school. I was afraid I was imagining that and with text messaging we don't even have to spell correctly.

    Thanks everyone for commenting.

  6. Hey, Mary, this reminded me of letters from Great Aunt Ellen and Great Aunt Blodwyn, who reminded me of the Baldwin Sisters in "The Waltons."

    No matter, what their subject, they added, a comma, or two, every three, words, or so.

    On the other hand, they spoke in breathless little old Southern lady cadences and the commas made their letters sound like them :-)