Monday, May 2, 2011

Don't fear the comma:

I know that the comma can be a cause of great fear for many. If you don't understand it and use it incorrectly it will bring death and destruction on your writing. However, once you have the necessary knowledge it can no longer terrorize your manuscript or render it unreadable. Therefore, do not be afraid to attack it with fierce intellect after learning its proper usage.

First, I want to thank all those who participated in our contest, which ended on the April 30th. I had a lot of fun with it hope you did as well. Even though the contest is over, I would like to emphasize that if you have not read Rachel's book, please do so soon. It is very funny and entertaining. Most of it is hilarious because they are true in our own relationships. Make a point to look it up, here is a link. I had a crazy fun weekend with lots of emotions flying all over the place. Hope you guys had a great weekend too, if you did please share in your comments.

Now let's get back to the use of the comma.

Punctuating adjectives before a noun:
You should use commas to separate two or more adjectives that modify the same noun if they are not linked by a coordinating connective such as and or but.

1.         The irate commander spoke in a loud, indignant voice.
2.         The sergeant's harsh and probing questions annoyed the commander. (No comma needed.)

You can use two tests to tell whether or not to put a comma between modifiers before a noun.

1.         Use a comma if and can be used to connect the adjectives.
2.         Use a comma if you can reverse the order of the adjectives.

William was the most aggressive, skillful sergeant in the Air Force.
Use a comma because you could say:

1.         William was the most aggressive and skillful sergeant in the Air Force.
2.         William was the most skillful, aggressive sergeant in the Air Force.
Unnecessary commas: Do not put a comma between adjectives if and cannot be placed between them or if you cannot reverse their order.

He was the most aggressive, skillful  sergeant in the Air Force.

1.         You would not write skillful and sergeant.
2.         You cannot reverse the words-sergeant  skillful  Air Force.

Therefore, do not put a comma between skillful and sergeant.

The adjectives placed before sergeant modify both words. Do not put a comma between the final modifier and the noun.


  1. Ah, the dreaded comma! Just recently, I had to go over the comma rules with my teen niece.

  2. Not to be a PITA (pain in the... errr... butt), but you have a typo: "The sergeant harsh and probing questions" was meant to be "The sergeant's harsh and probing questions," I assume.

  3. @Liz: Like it not we always have to deal with it.

    @Silver Fox: You are absolutely correct that is an error. Thanks for the heads up. I'll correct it right away.

  4. As a compulsive comma-overuser, I appreciate this post. :)

  5. @Courtney: I'm glad you can appreciate it, and hopefully it will be of good use to you.

  6. My fifth grade students don't fear the comma. They ignore it completely. I rarely, if ever, see one -- even when I directly teach its use.

    However, they love the apostrophe and put it everywhere.

  7. @Dianne: LOL... Got love kids. They do the funniest things.

  8. I'm in the middle of edits right now and I can use the tips in this article since I'm known by fearful commas as an abuser. If it saves even one poor comma, then this post has won.

  9. @wrenemerson I'm glad it can be of service to you. Make sure you check out the other writing tips I have on the blog.

  10. I'm bookmarking this page. The comma and I have never got along well. We have some kind of weird angst between us. Great post!