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Comma drama

by Carlie Sanderude

I’m sure I’m not the only one to know how easy it is to get tripped up over commas when writing. Sometimes I get “comma happy” and throw in commas after nearly every word. Other times I get “comma lazy” and don’t include enough commas at all. Commas really are not as complicated as we make them out to be if we follow a few simple guidelines. With a little help from my brother (who used to be a writing tutor before he graduated), let me offer the top five most common situations where you would need to use a comma in a sentence:

  1. Between items in a series. Note: the final comma is the somewhat famous Oxford comma that may be considered optional. Use it for clarity in most writing; do not use it in news writing and other mass communication courses.

Ex: Will you please give me a book, a pen, and a piece of paper?

  1. Between coordinate adjectives. Coordinate adjectives are those that could be connected with “and,” but instead you choose to use a comma.

Ex: The loud, angry man went storming out of the store.

  1. Before a coordinating conjunction joining independent clauses. The coordinating conjunctions spell FANBOYS: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so.

Ex: I guess I didn’t need to buy the shoes, but I wanted to anyway.

  1. After an introductory phrase or clause. An introductory phrase or clause is a group of words that sets up a sentence, but is not the main subject of a sentence. It just provides added information.

Ex: When I went to France, I ate bread and cheese everyday.

  1. After introducing a quote. Place a comma after words such as “said” or “stated.” The quote must be a direct quote. If you use the word “that,” then the quote just becomes part of the sentence structure and no comma is needed.

Ex: Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.”

Follow these rules when using commas, and life will become so much easier. If you want to know more situations where commas should be used, visit the tutors in the writing café in the library and ask for a comma handout! Commas can be daunting, but once you get the hang of it, they’re not difficult at all. But remember: just because you make a pause in a sentence doesn’t mean that you need to add a comma! That’s the big myth in this comma drama.

Carlie Sanderude is a senior at Principia College studying business administration and philosophy. She plays on the college’s soccer and tennis teams and has been a writing tutor for two years.

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