We have been talking about the pesky comma for nine previous blog posts! This post will give the remaining significant comma uses. Here we go:
- Use a comma in phrases and sentences containing a contrast or two opposing ideas:
- He was small, but very strong
- Here today, gone tomorrow
- Garbage in, garbage out
- I might go the movies, but not out to dinner afterwards.
- She has dark hair, not blonde hair, as we had thought.
- The more the merrier (No comma is needed in very short phrases)
2. Use a comma to separate two identical words in a row (or rewrite the sentence):
- Where he is, is the question.
- Wherever she goes, goes her dog.
- Let them come in, in single file.
- Whatever will be, will be good!
3. Use a comma in quotations, often instead of a period.
- “He lives next door,” she said.
- She said, “He lives next door.”
- “He lives next door,” she said, “but he isn’t home right now.”
- “He lives next door,” she said. She added, “He isn’t home right now, though.” (The comma before though is the comma’s use as sort of an afterthought. Here are other examples: He isn’t here, however. Set the table, please.)
4. Use a comma for a question that is part of a sentence when it is at the end:
- I asked myself, I wonder where she went. BUT
- I wonder where she went? I asked myself. (Italics are often used for the thoughts of the speaker).
5. Use commas in the greetings of friendly letters and closings of letters, memos, and e-mails:
- Dear Susie, (For business letters use a colon instead of a comma)
- Yours truly, With regards,
Frank Jones Dr. Lester
6. Use commas in sentences with an unusual word order:
- Where he is, I certainly don’t know. (Would generally be I certainly don’t know where he is.)
- What I will do next, I don’t know. (Would generally be I don’t know what I will do next.)
7. You can use commas sometimes for emphasis:
- They think, unrealistically, that they can beat the other team.
- I believe, completely, that you will get into that college.
8. Commas can be confusing when used with other punctuation. To review (these are American English standards):
- No matter what, commas always go inside quotation marks and exclamation points.
- Occasionally, you will have cause to use a period and a comma in a row, but not usually: For example – She lives at 110 Main St., Worcester, MA. However, it is always best to spell things out in text, so you would probably write Street instead of St., so there would be no period anyway.
These final two comma reminders may seem to conflict!
9. Don’t use commas without a reason. Commas are not like salt and pepper — to be sprinkled willy-nilly over your writing. HOWEVER…
10. Use a comma wherever in your writing not using one would cause confusion. Here are some examples of such cases: The dress comes in black and white, and blue and white. While eating, ants invaded our blanket. To Ellen, Mary was a pest. I saw the spider who ran up the wall, and screamed.
There you have it! In the ten posts about comma use, you have most of the ways we use commas. Some of the standards we discussed can be broken down even further into smaller categories. And although it is not foolproof by any means, the old trick of using a comma when you pause does work sometimes, even much of the time… but not always. Some people love commas and use them whenever they can (appropriately); others find them a nuisance in reading and writing. It is probably best to err on the side of too few commas as long as the meaning is clear. Clarity is the reason for punctuation.
Stick around, and next week find out when you shouldn’t use commas.
My website is undergoing a facelift in the next several days, but it will still be up for your viewing pleasure. Look for some new and interesting features to come.
I will be one of the featured readers at the Redwood Writers Open Mic on Saturday, January 23 from 2 to 4 p.m. at Gaia’s Garden on Mendocino (I think) in Santa Rosa, CA.
Mark your calendars on Friday, February 26 at 7 p.m. I will have the official launch (of course, there will be cake; there is always cake) of Fifty Shades of Grammar at the Petaluma Copperfields Books on Kentucky Street.
I am delighted and very proud of a review I just received on Amazon for The Best Little Grammar Book Ever, so if I can indulge myself and brag, here it is:
“In preparation for a remedial community college English class I taught, I purchased 6 other grammar books to compare against one another (e.g., The Idiots Guide, Dummies, CliffNotes, etc). Hands down, The Best Little Grammar Book Ever! is the BEST. I even brought the other books to my class to show the students and they all voted for Ms. Miller’s. Her examples are clearly presented, examples precise, and formatting accessible. She includes quizzes at the beginning of every chapter and the answers are on the next page. The students are able to see where they need help before getting stated. She does go a little overboard with her use of exclamation points, but she also lets the readers know this. It does reflect her passion for grammar. My students and I thank her for making the learning process less painful.”