Come on! Who doesn’t love the comma? It’s a writer’s friend—as is most punctuation. Embrace it. Bring it on. Use it. 😉
Seeing as punctuation often appears to be an issue with dialogue and dialogue tags—and we covered dialogue-punctuation basics in last week’s post—it seemed a worthwhile endeavor to review punctuation in general. (And how’s that for a lo-ong sentence?)
Let’s look at the common ones: the comma, period, semicolon, colon.
The comma has sometimes been used in the strangest places/circumstances, at random, and in multitude. We love the comma, but not when utilized haphazardly and/or en masse. While there may be additional reasons to employ it, here are the more commonplace.
Use it to denote a break between clauses with a sentence—like a pause—and to separate sentences clauses (such as when providing additional details about something or someone).
- Leo’s flat, located on a quiet park overlooking the Thames, was costly.
- “That’s not to say, however, that MacInsey is correct in assuming Walters is the informant.”
Use commas when you’re listing things or providing several adjectives.
- Thomas tried on two pairs of pants, three blazers, two pullovers, and four vests.
- He eyed the tall newcomer surreptitiously. He was middle-aged, well-dressed, attractive, and shifty-eyed.
We could also use a semicolon.
- He eyed the tall newcomer surreptitiously; he was middle-aged, well-dressed, attractive, and shifty-eyed.
Use a comma after an introductory phrase, clause, or word at the beginning of a sentence.
- Today, I’ll have pastrami and Swiss on rye.
- Later that night, the thieves crept into the empty warehouse.
- If you’re going to stay home alone, make sure to turn on the alarm.
I’m hesitant to use grammar expressions (they can prove confusing if not overwhelming), but use a comma after <wince> a conjunctive adverb.
- “Moreover, I dare you to find one bit of incriminating evidence, you pompous twit!”
- Henceforth, the matter was closed.
And, when you address someone, yes, use a comma.
- Bernie, will you be attending the party?
- “Mom, I need a lift to work!”
The period is used to end sentences—save for those that are questions or exclamations.
- We hastened across the field.
- Jen and Len ran through the puddles, shrieking and laughing.
Use one to end a statement or a request/command.
- To each their own.
- Make sure to sign the contract before you leave.
And use a period, not a question mark, if the question is implied.
- The manager asked her staff if they would be willing to attend the meeting on Saturday.
The semicolon can prove daunting for some. It’s used like a period and a comma combined, if that makes sense. It creates a full stop, like a period, yet connects independent clauses.
- Jenny saw the man enter the restaurant; he looked angry, even defiant.
- He decided to run along the pre-dawn beach; it was cool and breezy.
Use it instead of a conjunction (and, but).
- Larry sank onto the patio chair; he leaned back, exhausted.
- It was a dark, cloudless sky; no stars could be seen.
The semicolon can be used with a conjunctive adverb or transitional phrase (yeah, those grammar-related phrases are headache-inducing, aren’t they?).
- The students were asked to collect specimens for the project; however, three of them decided to take photos instead.
- The brothers drank beers the entire evening; consequently, neither thought they should drive the sedan back home.
It’s also used to separate things in a list that have commas. Not my favorite “device”, and I’d never employ it, but here you go . . .
- After graduation, Mark and Lee toured Berlin, Germany; Zurich, Switzerland; and Rome, Italy.
- Upon winning the lottery, Sally bought a case of champagne; ate caviar and scallops by the pound; and ordered a huge triple-chocolate cake.
Lastly, we come to the colon. It assists in introducing new information, to show that something will follow—a quote, list, or example.
- Jason grabbed a piece of paper and jotted down the names, lest he forget: Jackson, Marty, Fiona, Frederick, Lenora.
- I must remember to buy the following: eggs, orange juice, milk, and sugar.
You can use it before a noun or noun phrase or adjective.
- The book was everything I thought it would be: boring, long, and cliché.
- The trek through the mountains provided everything the tour guide promised: vistas, excitement, and exercise.
I believe I’ve provided enough . . . for now, at least. I don’t want you nodding off or rolling your eyes. 😉 If you’re looking for a more intensive list of “rules” re the aforementioned, the internet is your best friend.