Saturday, April 23, 2011

Three steps to working with a comma

Don't let the comma kill your writing.
I consider the comma one of the most important punctuation marks in grammar, and the most misunderstood. Many think they know how to use it, but they really don't. Some writers don't use it enough others toss them around like glitter on a child's poster board painting. Although it can be confusing, I will try to break it down for you starting with the simple sentences.

Simple sentences, sometimes called independent clauses, can be joined to keep similar thoughts together. To join two or more sentences, you have two choices:
1) Connect them with a comma followed by a conjunction, or
2) Connect them with a semicolon and no conjunction.

The two sentences joined should relate to the same thought. That is why you want them to be together not separate by a period.

Being a man I will use this punctuation in terms of driving hoping to give you a better visual aid. The punctuation signifies varying degrees of slow-down or stop for the reader. The comma with the conjunction will be a slow-down, and the semicolon will be a semi stop; the period will be a complete stop.

The two cars crashed at a busy intersection; three witnesses called it a fender-bender. (Two simple sentences put together with a semi-colon [semi stop].) Please notice how the second sentence continues the thought of the first.

Two cars crashed, and both front headlights were broken on one car, and the other car didn't appear scratched. (Three simple sentences connected with comma/and.)

The comma before the conjunction tells the reader that a new sentence is beginning. The subject may change. Sometimes a pronoun is used in place of the former subject. (Without a subject change, the sentence may be a simple sentence with two verbs, not requiring a comma: Two fenders were demolished on one car and had to be replaced.)

3) Step three is using a comma between two main clauses joined together by a coordinating connective.

Place a comma before a coordinating connective (and, but, for, or, nor, so, and yet) when it joins two main clauses.

The outfielder dropped the fly ball, and the runner on third base scored.

The following sentence does not have a comma before the connective. In this sentence, and, connects the two parts of a compound verb, not two main clauses.

The outfielder dropped the ball and committed an error.

Don't just put that comma anywhere. If you want to write do the job right.


  1. Thank you, I'm glad it can be of use to a writer.

  2. You're welcome Liz. Great to have you visit.

  3. I loved this one! I did something similar -- although much more "informal," you might say -- here. (If you follow that link, check out the comments, too. They're a hoot!)

  4. Thanks for this clear and instructive post, Orlando! =) I'm definitely the type of writer who sprinkles her commas around like glitter -- which is a rather pretty thought, I must say! =)

    You know, I actually had no idea about your third step in using commas between two main clauses connected by "and" (and other coordinating conjunctives). Just goes to show that I still have a lot to learn as a writer! =) This'll have me coming back for more. =)

    Thanks, Orlando! So glad to be in touch!

  5. @Silver Fox: Enjoyed your post it was very informative and funny. I especially liked AngelMay's comment.

    @Samantha: I'm very glad you got something out of it. I'm also glad you came to visit.

  6. OMG!!! I LOVE this! I am actually a comma whore, lol! I bought an entire book on grammar just to learn everything you just wrote about. Nice work! :)

  7. Thank you sycamoremeadows, and there still a little more to come, so enjoy.