Comma chameleon

Reader request time! A friend asked for some information about when to use commas correctly (and when they are unnecessary). It’s a tough topic for me to address because I use commas fairly intuitively. That is, I don’t generally think to myself, “All right, now I’m going to unite two independent clauses with a judiciously-placed comma! Go, me!” (Those of you who think I am actually this geeky, please don’t write and tell me.)

No, what I do instead is write in a way that seems to make sense to me, and then I review what I have written. Occasionally, I even read the words aloud. If the writing sounds at all awkward, I look to the commas first. Perhaps I have added one that is unnecessary, or perhaps I need to add another somewhere. I should add that I am a staunch supporter of the Oxford, or serial, comma, as all intelligent, beautiful, right-thinking people do.

My husband, Chris, is also a writer-for-hire, which is a huge bonus as it means that both of us have access to an in-house editor for our work. I once said to him, “Chris, I’m going to get you a bucket of commas for Christmas this year!” because I was constantly adding commas to his writing. (I’m his wife, not his boss, but sometimes the lines do get blurry.)

I like to think that these blog entries are informative, fun, and easy to read. So rather than write you a treatise on comma use, I’ve hidden the many correct uses of a comma within these paragraphs. I’ve provided a list of those uses below, and I challenge you to identify at least one example of each use. (For some, there is more than one example.) I hope it will be an entertaining, enjoyable task for you to attempt.

I’ve left out the really boring stuff like using commas to separate the elements of addresses, dates, and numbers. Generally, I think people know that we write 1,300,000 instead of 1300000 (with the purpose of making large numbers easier to read) or that there should be commas between the month, day, and year when writing out a date. What I’m trying to say is, when it comes to commas, sometimes you can just trust your gut. You’ll often be correct.

Readers, I await your feedback. Was this fun? Did it drive you bonkers? Honestly, I can’t wait to hear what you think.

List of situations in which to use a comma
•    To unite two or more independent clauses into a sentence
•    After a dependent clause that falls at the beginning of a sentence
•    To separate an appositive within a sentence
•    To separate items in a series
•    After an adverb that begins a sentence
•    When attributing a quote
•    After an initial Yes or No in a sentence
•    To separate two adjectives that describe the same noun
•    To set off a negation within a sentence
•    When directly addressing someone

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