Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Commas 101

Confession. I’m terrible with commas. And even worse with putting them in their proper places while I’m writing. I type at the speed of Secretariat, so often commas just don’t get added. Until the editingprocess that is.
Then I get out my red pen and punctuation handbook, and start adding and deleting that little pest known as the comma.

Here are a few basic comma rules that I see get broken regularly.

Commas Separating Items in a Series
When three or more items are listed in a series, each of these items should be separated by a comma. This applies to single words, phrases, and clauses.

Example – There were hats, dresses, and umbrellas displayed in the shop window.
Example – The guests enjoyed taking walks through the garden, rowing on the lake, sitting by the campfire, and taking the horses for a ride.

Commas with Coordinating Conjunctions (FANBOYS)
There are seven coordinating conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so. I like to refer to these as FANBOYS. These connect two clauses in a sentence. Knowing whether or not you need a comma is simple. If the words on both sides of the conjunction form a complete sentence, you need a comma.

Example – Everyone attended the ball, and we all had a fine time.
Because “Everyone attended the ball” and “we all had a fine time” could both stand alone as complete sentences, a comma is needed.

Example – Everyone attended the ball but the Duke of Wellington.
Although “Everyone attended the ball” is a complete sentence, “the Duke of Wellington” is not. Therefore, a comma is not needed.

Commas Following Direct Address
This is not a comma rule, but one I learned from a writer friend after continually making the same mistake. Whenever you have a person’s name in dialog, you always set their name off with commas.

Example – “Yes, Mr. Barton, I will look out for a new housekeeper.”
Or, “You, my dear lady, are above being pleased.”

 Commas Between Coordinating Adjectives
If adjectives can be joined with an “and”, they are coordinate, or if the adjectives can be mixed up and still keep the same meaning. Commas are needed between coordinate adjectives.  

Example – Lady Louise is an elegant, accomplished, and beautiful young debutante.
These can be mixed and keep the same meaning as in,

Lady Louise is an accomplished, elegant, and beautiful young debutante.

These can also be joined with “and” and the meaning still stays the same.

So there you have it. Commas in a nutshell. Learn them well and whatever you do, avoid mistakes like this one, in your novels, and in your correspondence.


Hopefully not. J

Happy Writing,



I’m thrilled to announce that over these next two weeks, I will be hosting two amazing authors on this blog. I’ll be doing an interview with the fabulous Mary Connealy on October 15th and giving away her most recent novel, Over the Edge. Stop by to learn about which of her characters she would pick to have dinner with and some news about her upcoming release.

Then, (drumroll please) on the 23rd, I’ll be hosting the incomparable Regency writer, Laurie Alice Eakes, where she’ll talk about the most interesting thing she did for research and how she comes up with ideas for her novels. I’ll also be giving away, A Necessary Deception.

Stop by and join the party!!


Ophelia - Marie Flowers said...

I'm forever putting commas where they don't go,haha. Thank you for this post, it was very helpful! :D


Anne Payne said...

I do believe I will copy your tips and give them to my 15 yr old, as he is always leaving out commas or misplacing them :)