# Commas, Commas, And More Commas!

Commas are an albatross around my neck. Maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but they are frequently my downfall in writing prose. Unfortunately, they are the most common punctuation mark within sentences, so you had better learn their proper use.

What’s the purpose of commas?

1. Separate main clauses linked by a coordinating conjunction.                                     Example: The house was built, but it had no tenants.                                                                             The meal was cooked, and the kitchen was cleaned.

2.  Set off most introductory elements.                                                                                              Example: Unfortunately, the rest of the house was a mess.                                                                           Of course, I would love to go.

3.  Set off nonessential elements (phrases that could be removed from the sentence              and not affect its meaning)                                                                                                                  Example: The injury, sustained from the fall, needed to be taken care of. The words          set apart by the commas are informative but not necessary to convey the idea.

4.  Separate item in a series/list.                                                                                                           Example: She had eggs, grits, sausage, and bacon for breakfast.

5.  Separate coordinate adjectives.                                                                                                       Example:  She was an independent, hardworking woman.                                                                              The warm, cozy comforter was all I needed.

6.  Separate quotations and signal phrases( she said, he wrote, said Elsie).                          Example: “Knowledge is power,” wrote Francis Bacon.                                                                                    Lisa said, “Do not walk on the grass.”                                                                            There are some exceptions to this rule.                                                                                        Example: “That part of my life was over,” she wrote. “His words had sealed it shut.”                              “Claude!” Jamie called.                                                                                                                          James Baldwin insists that “one must never, in one’s life, accept…injustices                            as commonplace.” (It’s integrated into the sentence so a comma isn’t                                        necessary.)

7. Separate parts of dates, addresses, place names, and long numbers.                                 Example:  July 4, 1776, is independence day.  December 1941(doesn’t need a comma)                              Raleigh, North Carolina, is the location of NC State University.                             Do not use a comma between a state name and a zip code.

8. Use the comma to separate long numbers in groups of three. With numbers of 4          digits, the comma is optional.                                                                                                          Example: 1,000,000                                                                                                                                                    1000

Okay, now you know what I know. This exercise was as much for me as it was for you.       Hopefully, I can retain the information and use it during my next revision 🙂

Hope it helped.

-Jan R

# Does That ‘But’ Really Need A Comma?

I like to highlight my mistakes. I guess my thought is, if I’m doing it, there are plenty of newbies out there doing the same thing. I like to think I’m not alone 🙂

I noticed something during my current revision that I never saw before. I’m having a  love affair with but. That wasn’t the only problem. There were a lot of commas following that but that shouldn’t have been there. My sentences weren’t compound, but they did have compound verbs.

Compound sentences are made up of two independent clauses that could stand on there on.

We went to a restaurant, and I ordered the chicken salad.

Simple sentences with compound verbs are not compound sentences and shouldn’t be divided by a comma. (This sentence is a great example.) Don’t you want to put a comma after and?

I knew I was wrong but couldn’t help myself.

She ran through the woods and jumped over the fence.

If these simple sentences bother you that much, you can make them compound.

I knew I was wrong, but I couldn’t help myself.

She ran through the woods, and she jumped over the fence.

-Jan R

# Be Consistent!

Have you ever heard someone refer to writing as elegant. It’s orderly and graceful. It flows.

By adding elegance to your writing, you can turn clear, precise, but clunky prose into a musical composition.

Elegance gives your writing a tangible feeling of beauty. It makes people say wow. Elegance isn’t just the wording, but the way it is presented.

Is your style disciplined and orderly, or is it inconsistent? Presentation elegance requires consistency from the beginning of your novel to the end.

When you use dashes, do you leave spaces between the words or not?

•  second-handed
• second – handed

When you write titles of books, do you italicize or enclose using quotation marks?

• Little Women
• “Little Women”
• ‘Little Women’

Do you use the oxford comma to separate the last item in a list?

• She brought apples, bananas, and grapes to the picnic.
• She brought apples, bananas and grapes to the picnic.

When you use numbers, do you spell them out using letters or simply write them out?

• twenty-seven
• 27

When you abbreviate countries, do you use periods following the letters or leave them out?

• U.K. vs UK
• U.S. vs US

I think you’re getting the picture. None of the above examples are wrong. Just remember, however you decide to express yourself in writing, be consistent.