Monday, May 9, 2011

The Mystic Comma

Oh my God is that comma ever going to end? Entire books have been written on the comma alone. The comma has that many uses and is misused even more. If you're asking yourself, do I really need to know this, the answer is no. You don't need to publish a book either. You don't need to sell more than five eBooks because someone gave it a dreadful review for its bad grammar. If you want to continue being a mediocre writer with little to no recognition for your work go right ahead. For those of you who want people to enjoy reading your novel you need to write correctly.

The comma may seem mystical and confusing but doesn't have to be. I remember asking a librarian once for a specific grammar book and a lady standing next to her asked why I needed it when Word would do that for me. Really, are we so reliant on computers that we trust them to take care of every aspect of our lives?

If you want to argue the issue with me let's try this test. Type the following sentence on your Word software: Rob Billy and Joe will come to the dance.
Now click on your spelling and grammar button. Nothing happened, right? It didn't suggest placing a comma after Rob and Bill, did it? If your next question is, do I need a comma after Rob and Bill? I thought you'd never ask. Let's find out if we need commas there.

The comma is used to separate items in a series of three or more as in the sentence above. They can be single words, phrases, or clauses. Let's look at some examples.

Cindy is taking lessons in piano, vocal, and dancing this semester. (Words)

I took the dog for a walk, did some exercise, and got dressed before eight in the morning. (Phrases)

Billy picked up the cake, Stacey decorated the house, and Danny cooked the burgers. (Clauses)

You don't need a comma if the sentence only has two items in the series.
Burgers and fries are his favorite foods.

Most people will agree with that. What we find an issue with is usually with final conjunction.  

I bequest the amount of $4 million to my children: Ralph, Robert, Cindy and Rose.

Do Cindy and Rose get a million each? Or do they get one-third of the inheritance to split between them? It's up for debate without the comma, and for Cindy and Rose it will be a big debate, I assure you. If the issue isn't detrimental, then you can go without the final comma. Just know that it changes the message. 


  1. Yay!!! Applause, applause! It does change the message, doggone it, and it is NOT optional! Had a laugh over Cindy and Rose.

    After the will was read, Cindy and Rose duked it out, suffering multiple lacerations, bruises COMMA and contusions.

  2. I hate bad grammar. The run on sentence is the quickest way to make me put down a book. I don't even feel like it's that hard to learn proper grammar.

  3. Thanks Dianne. I'm sure Cindy and Rose went after the guys too. Because hell no they would not let them get more than 1 million each. Ha,ha,ha...

    Austin, you're right. It's not that difficult. But, it's hard to read...

  4. Damn you are so right
    To read it can be a fright
    Of course when rhyming I sorta let some go
    Just to keep up with my show
    But when writing for real
    You need to heed the grammar deal
    For it can make or break your book
    And cause people never to look

  5. O' so hilarious, given my own post today! Again, great minds and all. :)

  6. Anyone who relies on WORD for grammar and spelling help will be disappointed. Now that's lazy! Great examples, btw.

  7. Thanks Pat.

    Supriya, I'm honor that you think I have a great mind.

    Liz, you are right on. It is way too lazy.

  8. Yay! Someone willing to stick his neck out and support the serial comma! As a comma aficionado, do yourself a favor and avoid Hemingway like the blazes. I swear that man was the genesis of all our disappearing-comma woes.

  9. Thank you K.M. this means a lot coming from you. And I will avoid Hemingway for commas.