To Comma, or Not to Comma

PG Note: The OP is part four of a series. If you click on the link at the end of the post, you’ll see links to the other three.

From Writers in the Storm

Are you a comma criminal? Do you steal commas from places where they really need to stay? Or maybe you’re a comma enthusiast and stick them in wherever you “feel” they need to be? If you said yes to one or both, you’re not alone. When it comes to commas, most people don’t go by any solid rules. Not only can that make your sentence structure inconsistent, it can confuse your readers about what you’re trying to say.     

It’s comma time again. I know. Try to contain your groans. We’re almost done! In this fourth part of the series, we’ll talk about pauses, sentence clarification, places, people, dates, words at the end of a sentence, and dialogue. And yes, it’s going to be easier than it sounds. Once you get the hang of commas, using them will come more naturally. I promise.

. . . .

TAKE A PAUSE

Sometimes, even if we follow the comma rules, the meaning of words in a sentence can be unclear or need some contrast. Especially when those words fall at the end.

Incorrect: He’s just being quiet silly.

This literally means he’s being “quiet silly.” Which isn’t really a thing.

Correct: He’s just being quiet, silly.  

Incorrect: He was only distracted not stupid.

Correct: He was only distracted, not stupid.

As a general rule, use a comma before “not” at the end of a sentence.

Incorrect: Our robotic math professor seemed different today almost human.

Correct: Our robotic math professor seemed different today, almost human.

Incorrect: That’s John’s new car isn’t it?

Correct: That’s John’s new car, isn’t it?

SENTENCE CLARIFICATION

Commas come in handy if there’s ever an issue with understanding what a sentence means. 

Incorrect: Jeremy gestured at the herd of stampeding horses yelling wildly.

Above, the horses are yelling wildly, not Jeremy. But with a comma added in the right place below, it becomes clear that Jeremy is the one yelling.

Correct: Jeremy gestured at the herd of stampeding horses, yelling loudly.

PLACES, PEOPLE, DATES

Use commas to set off specific geographical places and addresses, people’s titles, and dates.

Examples of Places:
  • Dallas, Texas, is where I’m from.
  • I used to live in Madison, Wisconsin, before I moved.
  • My sister lives at 676 Maple Lane, Plano, Texas.

Yes, you need a comma after the state too if it’s not at the end of the sentence. The odd way it looks throws many people off.

Examples of Titles:
  • My primary care doctor is Glenda Green, MD.
  • Glenda Green, MD, is my primary care doctor.
Examples of Dates:
  • September 11, 2001, is a date no one will ever forget.
  • May 18, 1943, was the day my mom was born.
Yes, you need a comma after the year too. Even though it seems weird.  

Exception: There is no comma with just the month and year—unless the date is used an opening clause.

  • I married my husband January 1991.
  • In January 1991, I married my husband. 

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

2 thoughts on “To Comma, or Not to Comma”

  1. <snark> The comments on dates, of course, presume that the American convention on date order is either “correct” or appropriate. One simply doesn’t have such problems when dates are unitary with no embedded punctuation, such as “Y2K problems were supposed to occur on 01 January 2001” or “This option is valid only through 31 Jul 2022 and may not be extended without a writing signed by both parties.”

    But then, if people should be using metric people would (ordinarily) have ten fingers.

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