Let’s eat Grandma.
Let’s eat, Grandma.
Two simple sentences; two very distinct meanings. So tell me, do commas make a difference? I say, quite emphatically, yes. So let’s do a little brush-up on the rules of comma usage, shall we?
Use a comma to separate the elements in a series (three or more things), including the last two. “He hit the ball, dropped the bat, and ran to first base.”
Use a comma + a little conjunction (and, but, for, nor, yet, or, so) to connect two independent clauses, as in “He hit the ball well, but he ran toward third base.”
Use a comma to set off introductory elements, as in “Running toward third base, he suddenly realized how stupid he looked.”
Use a comma to set off parenthetical elements, as in “The Founders Bridge, which spans the Connecticut River, is falling down.” By “parenthetical element,” we mean a part of a sentence that can be removed without changing the essential meaning of that sentence.
Use a comma to separate coordinate adjectives. If you can put an and or a but between the adjectives, a comma will probably belong there. For instance, you could say, “I live in a very old and run-down house.” So you would write, “I live in a very old, run-down house.” But you would probably not say, “I live in a little and purple house,” so commas would not appear between little and purple.
Use a comma to set off quoted elements:
“Given a choice,” Kim said, “I would wear purple shoes every day.”
Use commas to set off phrases that express contrast:
The puppies were cute, but very messy.
Never use only one comma between a subject and its verb. “Believing completely and positively in oneself is essential for success.” [Although one might pause after the word “oneself,” there is no reason to put a comma there.]
Typographical Reasons: Between a city and a state [Hartford, Connecticut], a date and the year [June 15, 1997], a name and a title when the title comes after the name [Bob Downey, Professor of English], in long numbers [5,456,783 and $14,682], etc.
Use Commas With Caution
Remember that a pause in reading is not always a reliable reason to use a comma.
Concentrating on the proper use of commas causes writers to review their understanding of structure and to consider carefully how their sentences are crafted.
One thing that drives me crazy is listening to people recite “The Pledge of Allegiance.” There is no comma, therefore no reason to pause, in the middle of this phrase: One nation under God. But nearly every time a group recite, they put one in: One nation [pause] under God. If I’m ever in a group reciting “The Pledge of Allegiance,” you will hear me plowing through and having my own little solo right in the middle of the entire pledge.
I love this quote from Oscar Wilde: “I have spent most of the day putting in a comma and the rest of the day taking it out.”
Have you seen a sentence lately in which the meaning was completely changed by the addition or lack of a comma? I’d love to hear it!
By the way, I appreciated the advice I was given last week concerning the book club. If you gave advice, please send me an email with your snail mail address and the number of people in your book club (send to kim at kimvogelsawyer dot com) so I can put those signed bookmarks in the mail to you.
God bless you muchly as you journey with Him! ~Kim