I’ve lived in the south my entire life and it’s safe to say my accent quickly distinguishes me from anyone living north of the Mason Dixon line. So, one would think that if I wrote like I talk, my copywriting would be full of commas…hey, why not pause every second during conversation to draw it out? Fact of the matter is I routinely don’t use them enough and I constantly refer to online resources to help me out. Using commas correctly seems elementary, but it is shocking how often this simple punctuation is misused.
Most people are familiar with Grammar Girl (I actually have her book The Grammar Devotional sitting on my desk) but probably don’t visit her as much as they should. Her web site is full of informative and easy to remember tips, and so is GrammarBook.com. In my opinion, here are some of the most useful tips from those sites:
Rule #1: Use a comma when an -ly adjective is used with other adjectives.
Lucy is a lovely, young girl.
Helpful Hint: To test whether an -ly word is an adjective, see if it can be used alone with the noun. If it can, use the comma.
Rule #2: Use commas to set off expressions that interrupt sentence flow.
She is, as everyone expected, very excited about the promotion.
Rule #3: When starting a sentence with a weak clause, use a comma after it. Conversely, do not use a comma when the sentence starts with a strong clause followed by a weak clause.
If these comma examples are not helpful, please let me know.
Let me know if these comma examples are not helpful.
Rule #4: A comma splice is caused when two strong clauses, which could be independent sentences, are separated with a comma without using a conjunction, a semicolon, or a period.
Kristen wrote an award-winning press release, Steven created an impressive web site.
Kristen wrote an award-winning press release, and Steven created an impressive web site.
Rule #5: Sentences that include “if clauses” are called conditional sentences. When this type of clause is at the beginning of a sentence you need a comma, and when it’s at the end you can leave it out.
If I don’t get enough sleep, I am worthless the next day.
I am worthless the next day if I don’t get enough sleep.
And, don’t forget the simple ones like use commas to separate words and word groups with a series of three or more; and use a comma to separate two adjectives.
Here is a recent article in The New Yorker about commas: it’s a funny read.
Do you have a common comma quandary? And, how did I handle my commas?
This article originally appeared on Lovell Communications Inc. – Nashville, Tennessee Based Public Relations and has been republished with permission.