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Thursday, June 9, 2011



I decided to write about commas since a fellow writer asked me to look at her commas or lack thereof and because I’m considered a comma expert. Ha. Ha.

Also, in a writing contest, I got dinged for this:

I wrote, “Got something Colonel from Zachari’s men.”

They corrected, “Got something, Colonel, from Zachari’s men.”

“What?” I remembered distinctly that commas were optional in short sentences and when the meaning was obvious, so I checked it out.

I wrote the Chicago Manual of Style on-line. The Staff wrote back to agree with me, but said that my sentence was gibberish without the commas. Oops. I’m not going to argue.

The rest of the rules are summarized from, THE COPYEDITOR’S HANDBOOK, 2nd edition, by Einsohn:

1. (Compound sentence) Separate independent clauses by comma unless they are short and unambiguous.

2. (Compound predicate) Use a comma between subject and second verb if needed for emphasis or clarity.

3. (Dependant clause preceding an independent clause) Place a comma after the dependent clause.

4. (Dependant clause following an independent clause) No comma after the i.c. if the i.c. is restrictive. [A restrictive clause is essential to the meaning of the sentence.]

5. Set off an introductory participle phrase with a comma.

6. Set off a sentence and transitional adverb with a comma. (Unfortunately, …//The sched, however, …)

7. Set off an interrupter with a pair of commas.

8. Use commas to separate the items in a list or series (3 or more). Sometimes house rules differ.

9. Use commas to separate coordinate adjectives and no commas if the adjectives aren’t coordinate. [Coordinate adjectives equally and independently modify the noun.] This is lax in practice.

10. Separate interdependent clauses unless the clauses are very short.

11. Separate antithetical elements with a comma. That’s my book, not yours, on the table.

12. In direct address, set off the addressee. See example from my novel at top of page.

13. Use a comma to separate the quotation from the speaker’s tag.

14. In running text, use a comma to separate the street address from the city, and the city from the state.

15. Use a comma to separate the date from the year.

16. Do not use a comma to join independent clauses.

17. Do not insert a comma between a subject and the second member of a compound predicate. [X This new method will simplify billing, and save us time. Drop the comma.]

18. Do not use commas to set off a restrictive appositive. The movie, Casablanca, is out. Drop commas.

19. Do not use commas before an indirect quotation. Management asked [no comma] whether sales were up.

20. Do not use a comma after a that that precedes a quotation. [Oh, I love this one and the next.]

21. Do not use a comma before a quotation that is the direct object of a verb. The sign said “No Fishing.”

22. Do not allow a comma to interrupt a so . . . that construction.

23. Do not place a comma before an opening parenthesis that introduces a comment. X Many dislike double pronouns, (he or she) and so we do not use them. Many dislike double pronouns (he or she), and so we do not use them.—A comma may, however, precede a set of parentheses that encloses a numeral or letter in an in-text list.

24. Sometimes an author will insert a pair of commas to provide a slight degree of de-emphasis. Example: The older conventions for using commas, at times, can produce an unpleasant choppiness (and applies well when using the same accenting technique in compound sentences. In this case, it’s better to drop from four to two commas because of a stutter step cadence and visually clarity.

25. Prevent a misreading of your text by applying commas.

26. Use your judgment with strange sentences.

All this is as clear as pancake batter, right?

By RW Richard

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