Commas

September 14, 2017

“Hi, my name is Cliff, and I have a problem with commas.”


I’m going to start a support group for writers, and that’s how everyone will start the meeting. It’s sort of like AA, but it’s for struggling writers who try to get by without an editor. I’m lucky. I have an editor who fixes my silliness without changing what I’m trying say, even when I don’t actually know what I’m trying to say. If you enjoy my writing at all you should know that its really because Bryan keeps a close eye on me.

When I first started writing, I would put commas everywhere. I wasn’t sure why, but it looked right to me, and since I was the writer, that’s just the way it was. It wasn’t long before I started checking my work after it came back from my editor, and I noticed the missing commas. Determined to be a better writer, I became comma shy and stopped using them unless I knew for sure they belonged.

Recently, I noticed that my work coming back from Bryan had more commas than the draft I had sent him. I knew I had to figure out this comma thing, because I’m not stupid, and I did pretty well in high-school English. I began looking at the rules for the use of commas, and here’s what I’ve learned about when you should use a comma:

Before coordinating conjunctions that link two independent clauses. I don't even know what that means.

After a dependent clause that starts a sentence. Does it matter what drugs the clause is dependent on?

To offset appositives from the rest of the sentence. Don't two appositives equal a negative?

After introductory adverbs. But only if it's a black tie event, or you’re introducing a VIP.

When attributing quotes. Sounds easy, but where to place the comma (inside or outside the quotation marks) takes more brain power.

Between two adjectives that modify the same noun. I've always wanted two adjectives to modify my noun, but Louise won't allow it. (Notice how I placed a comma before the coordinating conjunction?)

To offset negation in a sentence. You should never negate a sentence.

After reading all these rules about when to use a comma, I was more confused than ever. I continued my investigation of the comma:

Don’t put a comma after “but,” “or,” or “and.” Doesn’t that look silly with two “or”s in a row?

Don’t join two complete sentences with a comma. Well, actually you can, but you have to put a dot over the comma and call it a semicolon.

Don't put commas with words like "and" or "but" if the second clause lacks a subject. This is why the queen can do it: because she has millions of subjects.

When the second part of the sentence pairs with the information in the first part through correlation, a comma is not used Huh?

Do not use a comma to separate verbs in multiple locations in the same sentence.  Does this mean I should try to keep all my verbs in one place, sort of like keeping all of your eggs in one basket?

Okay, I can’t write any more about commas without a pause (which is when you should use a comma) for a few sips of an adult beverage. So now the job of being my editor is up to you. There are places in this blog where I’ve used a comma and shouldn’t have and places where I needed a comma and didn’t put one. Can you tell which is which?

Leave me a comment and tell me where you think I screwed up. The winner gets to read one more blog. The losers have to read two more blogs.

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