Comma-on

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.

The Curious, Elusive Comma

. . . Curious because comma usage can have us scratching our heads, asking, “How do I use this particular, perplexing piece of punctuation?” . . . elusive because this symbol can prove obscure if not crafty (in its own odd, abstract way).  Some writers use them in [over] abundance, while others use them almost never.

Now and then, I like to provide posts related to editing and punctuation and the like.  So, today, let’s look at our little friend, Mr. Comma.

There are “rules” of course, but those, as we know, are often made to be broken.  It’s really a writer’s prerogative how to utilize commas/punctuation but bear one word in mind: consistency.  Develop your own approach and adhere to it.

But, speaking of rules, it never hurts to review common practices/approaches.  Accept them as you like or will.

Use a comma to:

♣  divide separate independent clauses when connected by: and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet (most of the time, but I wouldn’t say always)

But, he was never to see her again.  (a definite no-o).

William thought about it, but decided not to see her again.  (possibly)

William thought about it but decided not to see her again.  (better)

Perhaps, the two knew better than I did.  (another no-o)

Perhaps Bill and Joe would eventually learn from their mistakes.  (best)

♣  separate less important information that may not be that relevant to the grand scheme of things

Mr. Ronaldson, an accountant of thirty years, flew to Mexico to start a new life.

♣  provide details after opening clauses or phrases or words that precede the main clause

Last Friday, she went to the movies with Lisbeth.

♣  separate three or more words (phrases, clauses) that denote a series

Tom ordered a plant-based hamburger, French fries, and chocolate milkshake.

♣  separate two or more adjectives before the same noun

Laura ran anxious fingers through her long, wavy hair.

He stopped in his tracks and eyed the shadowy, three-story, dilapidated house.

Obviously, there are more rules, but these are enough . . . for today’s post about the curious, elusive comma.  😉

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