Look, I really don’t give a rat’s ass about what you do on your own blog or in email messages.  I’m not going to think you’re a bad writer/blogger if you don’t obsess about Correct and Formal Punctuation in your everyday social media interactions.  (You’ve seen how I write when I’m just being myself, right?  OMG, the myriad sentence fragments and parenthetical phrases!  It’s how I practice talking like a human, though, and it seems to be working well so far.)  Blogging is, for most of the populace, simply a way to share one’s thoughts and feelings; blogs don’t have to be polished and professional, any more than a personal journal entry has to be.  First drafts (or second or fifth — anything short of It’s done, and now I’m ready to publish) don’t have to be perfect.   On the other hand, if you intend to share your writing with the public, and especially if you ask them to pay you for it, you ought to learn how to make it comprehensible.

In the past few weeks (as of late January, 2015), I have read not one or two but three novels that were of high quality in terms of plot and setting and characters… Alas, the punctuation was not good.  Blows goat would not be too strong an expression for one of them.  The sad thing is, the grammar in each of these novels was excellent.  The words were strung together with skill, and they were, by and large, well-chosen words that created interesting images and ideas.

Great story.  Too bad about the missing commas that made it so hard to read.  Trust me, you don’t want anyone saying that in a review of your novel.

Anyway.  The rules of comma usage.  Lots of ’em, but they’re mostly about separating words and phrases to keep them from running into one another and obscuring meaning — not nearly as complicated as it looks.

This is how you should use commas:

♦ To separate three or more words, phrases, or clauses written in a series.

♦ To separate independent clauses when they are joined by coordinating conjunctions:  and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet.  (Note that the comma belongs before the conjunction, not after it.  If you begin a sentence with a conjunction, leave the comma out!)

♦ After introductory clauses, phrases, or words that come before the main clause: So you see, baseball games and picnics cause rain.

♦ In the middle of a sentence to set off clauses, phrases, and words that are not essential to the meaning of the sentence; if these words are dropped, the sentence will still make sense and retain its basic meaning.

♦ To separate two or more adjectives that describe the same noun when the word and can be inserted between them.

♦ To set off all geographical names, items in dates, addresses, and titles in names.

♦ To separate a direct quote from the rest of the sentence.

♦ Whenever necessary to prevent confusion or misreading.

♦ Before or surrounding the name or title of a person directly addressed.  (There is quite a difference between Let’s go, mate and Let’s go mate.  Don’t get them mixed up!)

♦ To separate a question from a statement.

♦ To separate contrasting parts of a sentence: You want to get this right, don’t you?

♦ When beginning sentences with introductory words such as well, now, or yes.

♦ Surrounding words such as therefore and however when used as an interrupter.



2 Responses to Commas

  1. Pingback: Writing Glitch #32 | North of Andover

  2. M Oniker says:

    “Tell me what you really think,” you say. Ok. I think I’m in love. 🙂 Not only have you just given me permission to write crapinskily on my blog, because, well, it’s a blog (and therefore you also give tacit approval to blog comments with craptasitic grammar), but then you go on to remind us (me) about commas. Those are things I abuse regularly. I either don’t use them enough, or I use them too much. I’ve been out of blogdom for many, many months and yours was the first blog I returned to. (…to which I returned…)(augh) Intimidated, but in love. 🙂 I’ve changed my, eh-hem, moniker but the blog is the same(ish).

    Liked by 1 person

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