Lessons Learned #34

That crucial comma

Even though the comma is such a tiny thing, it holds enormous power, able to completely change a sentence.

Just before I put my novel ‘Living Like A Vampire’ online on Amazon, I threw it through Grammarly. So glad I did. And do you know what? About 95% of the problems that needed to be rectified were comma placements. I got so frustrated with it, that I went online and did some research. I now have four pages of info on when and where to place commas. This is a bit much, so I’ll split the info. The first lesson will be on the placement of commas between independent and dependent clauses.

Use commas to separate independent clauses when they are joined by any of these seven coordinating conjunctions: and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet.

Example: I had a coffee, and I had a donut.

If the subject does not appear in front of the second verb, a comma is generally unnecessary.

Example: I had a coffee and had a donut.

But sometimes a comma in this situation is necessary to avoid confusion.

Confusing: I saw that he was leaving and had a donut.

Clearer with comma: I saw that he was leaving, and had a donut.

Without a comma, the reader is liable to think that ‘he’ was the one who had a donut.

Some writers omit the comma if the clauses are both quite short.

Example: I drink and he eats.

Many inexperienced writers run two independent clauses together by using a comma instead of a period. This results in the dreaded run-on sentence or, more technically, a comma splice.

Incorrect: He ate all the donuts, he drank all the wine.

There are several simple remedies:

Correct: He ate all the donuts. He drank all the wine.

Correct: After he ate all the donuts, he drank all the wine.

Correct: He ate all the donuts, and he drank all the wine.

Use commas after dependent clauses and introductory clauses, phrases, words or adverbs that come before the main (independent) clause.

When starting a sentence with a dependent clause, use a comma after it. A comma is usually unnecessary when the sentence starts with an independent clause followed by a dependent clause.

Example: If you aren’t staying for dinner, let me know now.

Example: Let me know if you aren’t staying for dinner.

Follow the same policy with introductory phrases.

Example: Having finally decided on the menu, we ordered our meals.

Example: We ordered our meals having finally decided on the menu.

However, if the introductory phrase is clear and brief (three or four words), the comma is optional.

Example: When in town we go partying.

But always add a comma if it would avoid confusion.

Example: Last Sunday, evening classes were cancelled.

(The comma prevents a misreading.)

When an introductory phrase begins with a preposition, a comma may not be necessary even if the phrase contains more than three or four words.

Example: Into the sparkling pink champagne she gazed.

If such a phrase contains more than one preposition, a comma may be used unless a verb immediately follows the phrase.

Example: Between your red wine on the left and my white wine on the right, the man’s beer glass stood proudly.

Example: Between your red wine  on the left and my white wine on the right stood the man’s beer glass.

Also insert a comma when “however” starts a sentence, too. Phrases like “on the other hand” and “furthermore” also fall into this category. Starting a sentence with “however,” however, is discouraged by many careful writers. A better method would be to use “however” within a sentence after the phrase you want to negate, as in the previous sentence.

Many adverbs end in “ly” and answer the question “how?” How did someone do something? How did something happen?

Example: Majestically, he walked up to me.

Have a Wonderful Writing Weekend!




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