Are You Using Commas Properly?
Are YOU Using Commas Properly?
Find Out with Our 4 Quick Punctuation Tips!
You may be surprised to learn that even the best writers sometimes struggle with proper grammar, including using commas. Don't feel alone if you are struggling with when and when not to use a comma. The key is that you're on track to learning - and with a little practice, proper punctuation will be second nature to you.
It's essential to learn the importance of using a comma properly because comma placement can change the meaning of your words. Now, as a writer, you DON'T want to be confusing. So follow our four quick tips for learning how to use commas correctly, and you'll be on your way to becoming a better, clearer writer.
Let's get started:
Tip #1: Let's Get Serial, Serial!
In fiction writing, comma usage includes what is known as the "serial comma." It's also known as the "Oxford comma." If you've ever written an academic paper, you've used the serial/Oxford comma. Generally, you won't find the serial/Oxford comma in the newspaper or online writing. Those mediums use what is known as AP Style, and they leave out the serial comma. But, thankfully, there's an easy way to remember when to use the serial comma: You use it when you have a series of words or phrases that are connected by the conjunction "and," you'll want to separate each word with a comma.
Please buy apples, oranges, and bananas.
Don't forget to pack your T-shirts, socks, and underwear.
I love you because you have a beautiful mind, you're kind, and you're generous.
It's important to make sure you use the serial comma in a series because it's really easy to change the meaning of the sentence. Take this example with the serial comma and without from a famous example by journalist Lynne Truss [https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1843961]:
He eats shoots and leaves.
He eats, shoots, and leaves.
Is the person eating a meal of shoots and leaves? Or is the person eating, shooting someone with a gun, and leaving?
The comma placement in this "series example" will determine how the reader will interpret the sentence. Who knew such a tiny little marking could be so important?
Tip #2: Commas and Clauses
You'll also use commas with certain clauses. Read that again: Not all clauses, just certain ones! There are two main types of clauses-independent and dependent clauses.
There's an easy way to remember which clause gets a comma. Independent clauses can stand alone. They are complete sentences on their own. When two independent clauses are put together and separated by any of the seven coordinating conjunctions (for, or, nor, so, yet, but), you always need a comma. For example:
Drink your water, and brush your teeth.
The concert ended, but the audience members stayed.
Yesterday was my birthday, so I ate cake.
If the clauses cannot stand alone, then they are dependent clauses and don't need a comma when separated by a coordinating conjunction.
Tip #3: Introducing...
You'll also use a comma after an introductory clause or phrase that introduces a main clause. You usually can tell introductory clauses by the word they start with: If, when, as, while, because, as. For example:
When I was your age, I rode my bike for hours.
Because you are 16, you can drive a car.
While you were cooking, I was taking a nap.
Tip #4: Setting Off
Finally, you'll use commas in the middle of a sentence when you need to set off extra information that isn't essential to the actual meaning of the sentence. And with this rule, you'll use not one but two commas! This use is where the meaning of your sentence can be disrupted. Before you place your commas, ask yourself if the meaning of the sentence changes with and without them. Ask yourself whether the information you are setting off is essential to the sentence's meaning. For example:
I love amusement parks. Concerts, on the other hand, are a bore.
You are a very hard worker. Yesterday, however, set a record in my book.
Next week, which also happens to be Thanksgiving, is too busy for me.
Bonus Tip: Coordinating Commas
Sometimes using a comma is as easy as recognizing the role each word is playing in a sentence, and that is true for this next proper grammar rule. Often in a sentence, you'll have two adjectives that have the same weight. They both are equally describing the noun that follows. In that case, you'll always want to use a comma. For example:
She was a creative, playful baby.
His brown, shiny hair looked red in the sun.
The sweet, red watermelon was delicious.
You have to be careful, however, because some adjectives describing nouns do not "coordinate" and do not need to be separated by commas. For example: He wore black leather pants.
In this case, "black" is modifying "leather." These aren't equal adjectives, and they do not need to be separated by commas.
Ready to Get Started with the Comma?
Are you getting the hang of it yet? Don't beat yourself up if you can't remember all of the rules just yet. Remember, using the comma properly in your fiction writing takes a little bit of practice.
But if you keep these five quick punctuation tips in mind as you are writing, you'll get better at comma usage with every sentence you write. Practice by reading over your work after a morning free-write and apply the four rules above. Or, consider taking on one tip each day until you have mastered all five. Take some time to look over your work and see if you put your commas in the right place. If you didn't, just make a note of your mistakes for next time. Happy writing, reading, and writing some more!
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