Sadly, commas are often misused and mistreated. They lay by the wayside when they are meant to join independent thoughts. They are shoved in excess one after the other into dense sentences. Sometimes, they are placed without a coordinating conjunction buddy, leaving them cold and lonely. Other times, they unwillingly contribute to fragments. Alas, the list of comma abuse could go on and on.
How do we give back to the commas that have helped us shape our writing so much? How do we apologize for all the times we have misunderstood them? It’s simple, we practice our usage and work to bring justice to all commas far and wide.
Here are some practical guidelines to follow when punctuating your masterpieces.
FANBOYS is a mnemonic device that helps you remember all seven of the coordinating conjunctions. These are used when joining two complete thoughts together—they basically scream “I need a comma!”
Ex: I love my bosses at Kingdom Winds, and I love my coworkers!
Ex: I want a cookie, but I should eat fruit.
It is helpful to structure your sentences in ways that lead to the next idea, too!
- “I want a cookie, but I should eat fruit” indicates that I might crave something sweet, but I will choose something healthy. The next sentence or thought might express that I always feel better after choosing fruit.
- On the other hand, “I should eat fruit, but I want a cookie” indicates that I should eat something healthy, but I am opting for what I crave. The next sentence or thought might express that I get a tummy ache when I choose the chocolate chip option.
Sentence order and structure help us keep our minds focused on the movement and progression of the stories we are telling.
A round of applause for “AND!”
The comma can be used to separate different items in a list, too. “And” gets extra attention because it’s the coordinating conjunction that we use to separate the items! Here at Kingdom Winds, we are firm believers in correct comma usage and the well-known but highly debated Oxford Comma! The Oxford Comma is the last comma in a list of items.
Ex: Kingdom Winds is a publishing company for artists, authors, and musicians.
Ex: The zoo has monkeys, giraffes, tigers, lions, elephants, and alligators.
A common mistake is forgetting important commas! Sometimes, commas are crucial because they can save lives!
Ex: Let’s eat Grandma!
Ex: Hop on Dad!
- Without a comma, “Let’s eat Grandma” suggests that Grandma is about to become dinner. With the correct placement of a comma, however, “Let’s eat, Grandma” suggests that Grandma is being called to dinner and that everyone should now eat.
- Without a comma, “Hop on Dad” suggests that the children in the family should dogpile on top of their father. With the correct placement of a comma, however, “Hop on, Dad” suggests that a child is telling his father to hop on a bicycle or a horse.
Another common mistake is placing too many commas in a sentence!
Ex: A panda eats, shoots, and leaves.
Ex: I drink, juice, milk, and coffee, and I eat, fruit, cookies, and doughnuts.
- “A panda eats, shoots, and leaves” gives the impression that the panda performs three separate tasks because of the extra commas that divide each idea. A panda does not eat food, shoot a BB gun, and leave the crime scene. It is crucial to remove the unnecessary commas to relay the correct message that the diet of a panda is bamboo shoots and leaves: “A panda eats shoots and leaves.”
- “I drink, juice, milk, and coffee, and I eat, fruit, cookies, and doughnuts” suggests multiple tasks being completed but relays incoherent messages. It’s possible that I drink a beverage, juice a lemon, milk a cow, and eat food, but it’s not possible that I “coffee, fruit, cookies, and doughnuts.” Taking out extra commas makes the sentence clearer: “I drink juice, milk, and coffee, and I eat fruit, cookies, and doughnuts.”
Introductory Words and Phrases
All of the words you use to “introduce” a sentence get commas right after their appearance. You get a comma, and you get a comma, and you get a comma! Everyone gets commaaas!
Ex: Suddenly, I felt a cold chill drift through the room.
Ex: Meanwhile, I was having tea with my grandmother.
Be careful that you don’t use the comma right after an introductory word when it’s a part of an introductory phrase! Place the comma after the whole phrase instead.
Ex: However you look at it, the situation is rather tough.
Ex: Besides the stain on her shirt, Jess was spotless from head to toe after the food fight.
Some of the introductory words can allude to time.
Ex: Oftentimes, I get too caught up in daydreaming about living on an island.
Ex: Sometimes, I like to sneak up on to the roof and stare at the stars.
Lastly, we will take a look at fragmented sentences.
When an independent clause and a dependent clause get smooshed together, a lot of people turn to a comma for support. However, this comma is unnecessary. The best way to remember to leave the comma out is by reading the second half of the sentence by itself. If the sentence cannot stand alone, the comma should be removed.
Ex: I enjoy eating pie, and going on long walks in the park. X
“Going on long walks in the park” does not make sense by itself. Therefore, we can say au revoir to the comma.
Ex: We are the light of the world and the salt of the earth. ✓
“The salt of the earth” is not a full sentence; thus, it relies on the independent clause that proceeds it. The omission of the comma is acceptable.
Next time you are feeling stuck, take a glance back at this guide for comma usage. Don’t be afraid to call on help or take a moment to research when you’re feeling unsure. Commas are intricately important tools that shape the meaning and the progression of our sentences!
Featured Image by Brad Neathery