Comma, Comma, Chameleon

Sunday is grammar day!  Today is the first day of the comma.

The comma is the multi-tool of punctuation.  (Unfamiliar with a multi-tool? Think Swiss Army knife, but cooler.)  It is versatile, frequently used, and there when you need it.

Of course, because it is so multi-talented, it’s going to require more than one post.  Today I’m going to focus on three of the most common uses.

A comma separates items on a list. We’re all familiar with this one, right?  He needed eggs, flour, butter, and sugar at the store.  Here’s the kicker: the commas between the items are required, but the last one (before the and) is optional.  I personally prefer to leave it out, but it is really entirely up to you.  Just be consistent in your document!  You can do it differently between your school essay and your novel, but pick one way and stick with it within each.  Just a note: a comma is also used to separate a list of descriptors.  He was a sweet, loving boy.  In this case, there is no “and,” so all the commas are required.

A comma sets off a quotation.  Again, this is simple and straightforward except when it isn’t.   When the comma comes before the quote, it’s always the same.  Jack asked, “What happened?”  When the comma comes after the quote is when it gets tricky.  It replaces the period in a statement and goes inside the quote marks (if you’re writing in American style).  “I slipped down the stairs,” I replied.  If the quotation is a question or exclamation, you ditch the comma.  “Are you serious?” he answered back.  “Really!” I said.  If you have a sentence that’s confusing, my best advice is to put the comma before the quote.  Jack laughed as he remarked, “I can’t take you anywhere!”  (That’s not a true story, by the way, but it could happen.)

A comma marks a name or descriptor.  My mom, Linda, was excited to buy my book.  Jack, my best friend, hasn’t read it. You’ll use this is if the sentence doesn’t need the name or descriptor.  Take the part between the commas out and both sentences still work.  It also applies when you’re using it at the end of the sentence, although then it only needs one comma.  This is my mom, Linda.

Those are some of the common uses of commas.  Next week (after I play with my writing and refer to my grammar references) we’ll jump into some of the trickier uses!



3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kate Ferguson Writes
    Nov 13, 2011 @ 10:08:49

    “Thank you”, I said to myself when I saw your post. 🙂


  2. Trackback: Comma Commotion! « Butterflies and Dragons

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