Tag Archive - commas

Comma Get a Handle on Commas

Those dreaded commas. I think commas cause more confusion than any other bit of punctuation. Writers either overuse them or don’t use them enough or properly. So I will be going over numerous comma rules over the weeks to help you get a handle on those slippery things.

Material quoted in the form of dialogue or from text is traditionally introduced with a comma. If a quotation is introduced by thatwhether, or a similar conjunction, no comma is needed.

  • It was Thoreau who wrote, “One generation abandons the enterprises of another like stranded vessels.”
  • She replied, “I hope you aren’t referring to us.”
  • Was it your mother who used to say that “a penny saved is a penny earned”?
  • You are now wondering whether “to speak now or forever hold your peace.”

Last year I posted about speaker tags and using commas to separate the speaker from the speech, but as a reminder, you cannot “sigh,” “cough,” “frown,” or “nod” speech. It is incorrect to write: “I’m tired,” she sighed. You can write: “I’m tired,” she said with a sigh” or “I’m tired.” She sighed.

Serial Commas Are Serious Stuff

Serial commas are commas that separate items in a series and in particular pertain to the use of a comma with the last item listed. Many people ignore this rule, and I’m pretty sure it’s standard policy (to ignore) this rule in AP (article writing) style. which doesn’t make sense to me. It’s very important to always use a serial comma.

The example often used to show the need for the serial comma is this line: “I’d like to thank my parents, God and Mother Teresa, for inspiring me.” Well, by not using the serial comma between God and Mother Teresa,  you can see how the meaning of this sentence gets really wacky. I mean–who in their right mind would claim their parents are God and Mother Teresa? The way to punctuate this correctly so as to avoid such a weird interpretation is “I’d like to thank my parents, God, and Mother Teresa for inspiring me.”

Entire books have been written on this topic (see Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation for a great book that stresses the need to be careful with those tiny bits of punctuation).

So, whenever you have a list, be sure you use a comma after each item in that list. You don’t necessarily need one after the very last item—that depends upon the phrase to follow, but we won’t get into that in this post.

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