Tag Archives: commas

Comma Confusion Clarified

Grammar encompasses the words we use as well as how we string them together and punctuate them. Confusion about comma use abounds.

My book, Grammar for People Who Hate Rules, addresses four scenarios of this often used — and often misused — punctuation mark: with Latin abbreviations (chapter 29), with academic degrees (chapter 30), with conjunctions (chapter 41), and with but (chapter 42).

This post focuses on commas when they are used to separate clauses, both independent and dependent.

An independent clause is a group of words that includes a subject and a verb and that expresses a complete thought. I often refer to an independent clause as a complete sentence.

We decided to go to a movie.
Susan is a gifted artist.
The employee handbook defines our corporate dress code.

When you connect two independent clauses, use a conjunction (and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet) and a comma to separate them:

We decided to go to a movie. The bus stops a block from the theater.
We decided to go to a movie, and the bus stops a block from the theater.

Susan is a gifted artist. Her prices are too high for my budget.
Susan is a gifted artist, but her prices are too high for my budget.

The employee handbook defines our corporate dress code. Few people follow its dictates.
The employee handbook defines our corporate dress code, yet few people follow its dictates.

If you use a comma but no conjunction to separate the clauses, you get what is known as a run-on sentence:

We decided to go to a movie, the bus stops a block away from the theater.
Susan is a gifted artist, her prices are too high for my budget.
The employee handbook defines our corporate dress code, few people follow its dictates.

Note: A semicolon where there is a comma also would convert each example above to an acceptable construction.

A dependent clause is a group of words that includes a subject and a verb but does not express a complete thought.

When we decided to go to a movie …
Although Susan is an artist …
Because the handbook defines our corporate dress code …

When you combine a dependent clause with an independent clause, use a comma to connect them.

When we decided to go to a movie, we checked the bus schedule.
Although Susan is a gifted artist, her prices are too high for my budget.
Because the employee handbook defines our corporate dress code, you shouldn’t have problems deciding what to wear to work.

In American English, commas always go inside quotation marks:

“Let’s go to a movie,” she said.
The art critic described Susan’s paintings as “exquisite,” and I agree.
You might call our dress code “arcane,” but it is not open for debate.  

Final note: A comma indicates a pause. Read your full sentence aloud or in your head to help you decide if you need a comma to make your meaning clear.

Grammar puzzles pop up every day. Let me know what you read or hear that sounds wrong. We’ll learn together!

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Email Salutations: Formal or Informal? Comma or Colon?

man_sending-emailEmail continues to be the predominant form of business communication, yet many business climates are becoming even more casual. What’s the best way to start a message? How formal or informal should your salutation be?

The best answer: It depends.

An email opening consists of a greeting and a name. It can set a formal, respectful tone or an informal, friendly tone.

Dear Mr. Lee:
Good morning, Brad.
Hi Brad!

A reader questioned whether to include a comma between an informal greeting and the person’s name: Continue

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Got Grammar Pet Peeves? You’re Not Alone

annoyed_grammar_pet_peevesI invited those of you on my email list to share your grammar pet peeves, and the results are in!

First: What is grammar? Grammar encompasses the words we choose and how we punctuate them — how we string them together.

Words give our sentences meaning, and punctuation marks tell us when to pause or stop, when to raise our voice or show emotion, when we’re asking a question versus making a statement.

Here are your pet peeves: ways others speak and write that you find annoying. They’re alphabetized so you can skim and select what interests or resonates with you. I’ve commented here and there and added examples. Continue

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Grammatical Errors Sabotage Writer’s Message, Credibility

Embarrassing_Grammar_MistakesWhen this headline written by a member of one of my LinkedIn groups hit my inbox, I did a double take:
Is you Networking, Notworking?

Although it’s catchy, I clicked on the link to see if the errors — you instead of your, no capital Y, and a comma where none is needed — were intentional as a means to attract attention or whether they truly were oversights.

When I read further, I decided they had to be oversights, as these faux pas were only the beginning. Continue

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When Does ‘But’ Need A Comma?

but-comma-grammarBut is what we call a coordinating conjunction; it connects groups of words that are considered equal in rank.

Other common coordinating conjunctions are and, for, or, nor, so and yet.

Some readers have questioned whether to always use a comma before but. The answer: No, not always.

Can you spot what’s lacking in the second of each of these examples? Continue

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