Monday, 24 November 2014

How to use a comma correctly and avoid common comma mistakes

How to use a comma?

Most people wrongly assume that the comma is a simple piece of punctuation. The comma is extraordinarily complex.  This is because it has many different functions which have been listed below.

The biggest misuse of comma is that many writers believe that a comma should be inserted in every pause and tend to overuse commas in their work. Don't get caught out.

Writers wrongly assume a comma is just a pause. It is so much more than that.

What are the main functions of a comma?

  • To separate adjectives within a sentence
  • To separate introductory elements within a sentence
  • To separate contrasting clauses within a sentence
  • To separate dates and years, towns and counties within a sentence
  • To separate parenthetical elements within a sentence
  • To separate direct speech or quote elements within a sentence
  • To separate a list of three or more items within a sentence
  • To separate two independent clauses within a sentence



How to use a correctly use a comma to separate adjectives within a sentence

A comma is used to separate adjectives within a sentence, the last two are joined by and, or, nor.

The troll was stinky, mean and anti-social.

However sometimes a comma is not needed if the words and or or cannot be placed between the adjectives.

The little blue tardis was actually very big on the inside.

In this sentence a comma is not needed, as you wouldn't write, The little and blue tardis was actually very big on the inside.


A comma should be used to separate two interchangeable adjectives.

The unicorn is a strong, powerful creature.

The unicorn is a powerful strong creature.


How to use a comma to separate introductory elements within a sentence

As the sun finally set in the west, the vampires began to rise once more.

The introductory element is As the sun finally set in the west. If the introductory element is very short, three words or less, a comma can be emitted.

It was dark when the vampires came out.

In this sentence the introductory element was It was dark and is short enough to not need a comma.

However if the introductory element modifies the meaning of a sentence a comma should be used.

Unfortunately, the princess was actually a man.

In this sentence the introductory element of the sentence unfortunately indicates it is a problem that the princess is a man.

How to use a comma to separate contrasting clauses within a sentence

The enchanted castle was beautiful, but completely impractical.

The mermaid was beautiful, but stank of fish.

In the above sentences which are both composed of two contrasting clauses a comma is used to separate them as the clauses would not make sense as stand alone sentences.

How to use a comma to separate dates and years, and towns and counties within a sentence

The ogre lived in Ogreville, Ogreland.

The witch was born on June 6, 1666.

How to use a comma to separate parenthetical elements within a sentence

A parenthetical element, or an aside, is simply a clause that can be removed from a sentence without altering its meaning. A comma is then used to open and close a parenthetical element.

The wicked witch of the west, who is actually quite nice once you get to know her, rides on a tattered broomstick.

In this sentence the parenthetical element is who is actually quite nice once you get to know her can easily be removed from the sentence to create a shorter sentence whose meaning is not altered.

The wicked witch of the west rides on a tattered broomstick.


How to use a comma to separate direct speech or quote elements within a sentence

"I'm going to turn you into a newt," the witch teased.

However a comma is not always needed if the punctuation is ended by a punctuation mark. Note that the words used after the piece of direct speech do not need a capital letter. To use one is a very common writing mistake.

"Give me the ring Frodo!" snarled Gollum.

How to use a comma to separate a list of three or more items within a sentence

The magic potion contained dragons blood, unicorn tears, pixie dust and gin.

The giant's favourite foods were chargrilled man, roasted elephant and jelly and ice cream.

Note how a comma has been omitted from jelly and ice cream, this has been done to illustrate that jelly and ice cream is one meal and not two. This is a known as the Oxford comma.

 

How to use a comma to separate two independent clauses within a sentence

 A comma should be used to separate two independent clauses within a sentence by appearing before a co-ordinating conjunction. The comma does not appear after the co-ordinating conjunction.

Examples of co-ordinating conjunctions include: and, but, or, so, yet, nor.

The mermaid was a great swimmer, but she couldn't walk.

The mermaid was a great swimmer, and She couldn't walk are two independent clauses, they can form stand alone sentences separately but can be separated by a comma and a co-ordinating conjunction to form a sentence of two independent clauses.










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