Monday, September 10, 2012

Do You Pause?

How is it that the quiet little comma can wield such big power?

To pause?

Or not.

That is the question.

I don't know about you, but commas trip me up on occasion. To keep my tripping to a minimum, I compiled a fast fact comma list to keep me on my toes. Thought I would share it on the off chance that commas make you stumble too.

1) Use a comma to separate adjectives that equally modify a noun.

    Susan was afraid of the big, creepy spiders in the shed.

2) To determine if the adjectives equally modify the noun, switch them around. If the sentence is still clear, then they modify equally.

    Susan was afraid of the creepy, big spiders in the shed.

3) Use commas between items in a series.

    Mason brought chips, pickles, and potato salad to the picnic.

4) Do not use commas when words are separated by or, nor, or and.

    Louise washed the car and hung the laundry and watered the flowers.

5) Use a comma to separate parenthetical elements in a sentence.

    Ryan entered the chapel, tardy as usual, and stood next to his bride.

6) Use a comma to set off an appositive. An appositive is a word or phrase that explains something. An appositive is not essential to the meaning of the sentence.

    Our vacation home, a rustic and cozy cabin, is located about sixty minutes from here.

7) Use a comma after an introductory adverb clause.

    After the wedding, Ryan and Megan went on their honeymoon.

8) Use a comma with an interjection or to set off an interruption.

    Hey, what am I supposed to do now?       

    For him, well, it's just better that way.

For other comma facts, check out this article, The Most Comma Mistakes by Ben Yagoda. 

In other non comma news...

Congratulations to Kevlin, the winner of Band of Sisters by Cathy Gohlke! (Kevlin, please email me back asap. :)

So how about it, does the comma trip you up?

Happy writing,

Photo credit: Stock Exchange


  1. Thanks for such a helpful list, Karen. I'm going to print it off for my boy :).

  2. This is my weakness. I'll be coming back here.
    ~ Wendy

  3. That's a good checklist and excellent examples. I tend to overuse commas when tying together two sentences. Two short sentences are usually better than one long one.

  4. Carol,
    You are welcome. :) Sometimes I'm consulting this, sometimes checking out The Elements of Style.

    Hope these pointers help. That article was a great help for me too.

    Yes, I agree. I have teen students who are masters at long sentences. It's easy to do, so I encourage them to be aware and revise or shorten them.


  5. Oh commas, how I love thee. I've seen lots of comma removals based on the Chicago Manual of Style, though. It's new to me.

  6. You have no idea how often I'll read drafts and have to deal with misplaced commas. They trip me up like no other. This is a list worth sharing. Thanks for putting it together. :)

  7. Helpful checklist. I have a love affair with commas and sometimes I use them when I don't need to! Very helpful--thank you!

  8. Part of me believes we use way too many commas. Honestly, you take them out and few are missed. Of course there's exceptions. For example, I am obsessive when it comes to the comma in direct addresses. So many good writers omit the common when addressing a person and I don't understand why.

    "How are you doing, John?"
    (How are you doing John? Probably with a salad, why?) wrong!

    "How's Janet John?"
    (Janet John? Who's the hecks Janet John?)
    Oh you mean:

    "How's Janet, John?"

    LOL. Okay, that's enough fun for today.

  9. Commas give me grief at times. Great post.

  10. This is a great list to keep handy. Thanks.

  11. Lydia,
    I know, and me too. Seems like something is always changing or being tweaked too. Trying to keep up...!

    I do the same, even as conscious of it as I like to think I am! Glad you found it helpful.

    Thanks a bunch! I overuse sometimes too. We'll get it one of these days! :)

    Love it! It's like that picture that floats around Facebook that talks about how punctuation saves lives - "Let's eat Grandma" or "Let's eat, Grandma." Yeah, and who is Janet John anyway? lol

    Thank you! Punctuation can be tricky. We'll just be works in progress. :)

    You are welcome. Hope they don't trip you up too much!


  12. The "equally modify" rule has tripped me up before. I love how you explained it. Thanks, Karen! :)

  13. Great review, Karen! And I find that there's significant variation between editors, even, on the use of these little things. Don't you?

    (Word lover that I am, I like the name of the article you referenced.) :)

  14. I learned about comma usage in a way that stuck with me in stenography class in high school. Go figure!

  15. Thanks for the tips. Always helpful to have a handy guide.

    Moody Writing

  16. I love punctuation reviews like this. I think of a comma like I think of a breath mark in music. Sometimes you just gotta take one. Great post.

  17. Great advice, Karen! I get confused with commas too -- one of these days, I'll figure out how to use them correctly! :)

  18. Sarah,
    Thank you! I happened across that tip years ago and it really is a big help. :)

    I do see variations in editors at times. About the time you think you have it straight, someone wants it done differently. Oh well, we can be flexible, right? :)

    Well, hey, if it stuck, that's a good thing! You never know what will make your memory head into gear sometimes. :)

    You are welcome! :) Glad you came by.

    You're welcome. I'm learning that I am not the only one who gets tripped up. :)

    That's a great way to remember it. :) I always think of it as a natural pause. You're right, we do need to breathe!

    Me too! We'll get a better handle on it one of these days. :)


  19. Thanks for this refresher, Karen! I need to go check out that link now. :)

  20. Hi Karen...Yeah, commas occasionally trip me up.

    In threes, I believe it is Associated Press style to Not put a comma before an "and." At least that's the rule they follow at a weekly newspaper I freelance for.

    For example, He went to the store to buy, potatoes, apples and oranges.

    Thanks for the post. Susan

  21. Karen:

    Thanks for the refresher! I use commas quite a bit and have been wondering if I overuse them.

    Informative post! I always find something fun to read over at your spot. Be well...


  22. Thanks for this comma brush up, Karen. I tend to be comma-happy! Question for you, is it appropriate to use a comma in the following phrase: Our Golden Retriever, Precious, just had knee surgery.

    Hope your week is punctuated with blessings! :)

  23. Hi Karen,

    Thanks for the list about commas. I've saved this post in my favorites so that I could check back often.

    Congratulations are in order as you won the Anna Hackett Giveaway on Romance Book Haven!


  24. Melanie,
    You are welcome! Hope that you find the link helpful. :)

    Me too! And I've seen it done the other way as well, where a comma before the "and" is okay. Guess it just depends who you're writing for!

    You are welcome. I think I overuse them sometimes too. I often find myself reading back over it - aloud - to see how it sounds.

    I have seen those situations handled different ways, but according to Ben Yagoda in the article linked above, that would be correct if that is your only dog. Trying to keep this straight can really make you think!

    Thanks for letting me know! This is a nice surprise. :) Glad you found the list helpful!


  25. Thanks for sharing those tips, Karen. I think I'm an over-user of commas. Not sure why, but I have a feeling they come out often enough to render me guilty. Will try and remedy that... :)

  26. My friend, Barbara, calls me the comma queen. I think she doesn't use them enough. This will settle our uncertainty!

    What I do, unscientifically, is to read the sentence aloud. Do I feel that a pause is necessary to better make my point, and so would a comma be warranted there?

  27. Dottie,
    I use them too much too. Not sure why either! But at least we can revise and review before putting it out there, right? :)

    Now I'll always think of you as the comma queen! LOL Well, I guess we can work to find a balance. I do the same, reading aloud to see how it sounds.


  28. Thank you for the refresher. I sometimes get tripped up, too.

  29. Linda,
    You are welcome! This is why I am thankful for the revision stage. :)

  30. Hi Karen - great post ..

    3) - do you need the comma after the pickles? I don't think so ... as in 4)

    5) If my husband to be did that .. I'd be running away! - or having the frying pan ready to swat him!!

    6) I learnt a new word!

    And in answer to your question - I get to thinking about commas fairly often ...

    Really useful post - thank so much .. cheers Hilary

  31. Hi Hilary,
    Good to see you! Thanks for your kind words and input. A comma after "pickles" - that is called a serial comma, and it's the advice Strunk and White and others have offered for years. I have an editor who requires its use this way. But as Susan W. above mentioned, the newer AP style does not require it. So I guess it is just a matter of where it is used and who wants it which way. Go figure, right? Trying to keep up with this can be very tiring.

    As for Ryan, yes, I suppose a frying pan might be in order. Not a good way to start off a marriage!

    We're always learning something, aren't we?

    Hope you are doing well,


Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. Have a blessed day!