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Commas (Part One)

Back to the basics with regular Challenge winner, Ann Grover. Weekly lessons to help you hone your basic writing skills.

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Anja
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Commas (Part One)

Postby Anja » Tue Jan 19, 2010 4:51 pm

I’m not sure which day of the week or how often I’ll post a lesson. I’ll know better after I see how it fits into my life and how much interaction there is. We can spend as much time as you need on each topic.

I’m not an authority on this by any means. My only real qualifications are that I did take some university English, and I homeschooled for 22 years. I also privately taught ESL. And being an A-type, I am a stickler for “properness.”

I’m going to break up all the “rules” for commas into several lessons, just covering a few points each time.

Commas are highly misused and abused. There is a saying something to the effect that when you proofread your article, remove at least half the commas. I don’t agree entirely with that, because if you understand their usage, you shouldn’t have to remove any. On the other hand, if you are unsure about any comma, chances are it’s unnecessary.

COMMAS

Use COMMAS to separate words, phrases, and CLAUSES that are written in a series of three or more coordinating elements.

Ellen enjoys eating grapes, strawberries, and apples. (Separate words.)

(Important point: It is also correct to leave out the final comma. But I’m from the school of thought that considers that form “less correct.”)

Ellen enjoys eating grapes, strawberries and apples. Separate words.

John went into the barn, brushed his horse, and fed the milk cow. (Separate phrases.)

Mary went to town, she paid the bills, and she had lunch with a friend. (Separate SHORT independent clauses.)

I would be wary of using the last example, just because of the risk of writing a COMMA SPLICE. Comma splices will be covered another time.


Use commas to separate two or more COORDINATE ADJECTIVES that describe the same NOUN.

William adopted the small, untrained puppy.

William bought a new wool suit.


How can you tell if the ADJECTIVES are COORDINATE?

Two tests:

a) You will be able to join the adjectives with “and.”

b) You will be able to interchange the adjectives positions within the sentence.

Try it with the examples.

William adopted the small AND untrained puppy. (Adjectives coordinate.)

William adopted the untrained, small puppy. (Adjectives coordinate.)

Therefore, USE a comma between the two adjectives.

Try the next sentence.

William bought a new AND wool suit. (Adjectives NOT coordinate.)

William bought a wool new suit. (Adjectives NOT coordinate.)

Try this:

I have a fast blue car.

Check out why there is no comma. Try the two tests.

Colours are NOT usually coordinate adjectives. Do NOT use a comma between colours and the other adjectives.

That's all for now.

Comments, questions, and suggestions are always welcome.
Ann Grover

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Lesson

Postby browniesgal » Tue Jan 19, 2010 5:32 pm

Thanks Ann, I think I understand these. I think I have always struggled in the spots where a colon or semicolon should go. I usually opt for a comma.
Thanks, Ruth B.

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Commas

Postby Green Leaves » Tue Jan 19, 2010 6:27 pm

This was helpful to me as well.

I soooo need this lesson on commas. Thanks, Ann!
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Re: Commas

Postby rita5000 » Tue Jan 19, 2010 7:29 pm

Green Leaves wrote:This was helpful to me as well.

I soooo need this lesson on commas. Thanks, Ann!


Me too. :D

Thanks so much! :D
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Postby Laurie » Tue Jan 19, 2010 9:43 pm

Thanks especially for your explanation of coordinate adjectives. Helpful stuff. :)

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Postby joyfaire » Tue Jan 19, 2010 10:16 pm

Ann, looking forward to the class. Your comments and examples are very easy to follow. :thankssign
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Postby CherieAnn » Tue Jan 26, 2010 12:07 am

Very good info :) Particularly the part on how to tell if adjectives coordinate.

Thanks for the lesson :)

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comma's

Postby ebrightken » Tue May 04, 2010 8:09 am

It would be nice to have a lesson on other times when you should use a comma as it relates to a conjunction

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Postby Anja » Fri May 07, 2010 4:39 pm

Check Commas (Part Three). Commas with conjunctions are explained there.
Ann Grover

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Postby mymask » Fri May 07, 2010 5:27 pm

Thank you!!!! gotta luv anja!
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A friendly family feud

Postby lish1936 » Tue Feb 24, 2015 2:35 pm

Ann, please help me settle this. :D

My cousin, who is writing a book about the family's history, insists on putting commas afterthe "and." Should quote mark come before the period?

She writes: For over fourteen years we kept digging and, at the turn of the twenty-first century, a Millennium Family Reunion was held in Greenville, North Carolina.

I would rewrite the above as:

For over fourteen years we kept digging, and at the turn of the twenty-first century a Millennium Family Reunion was held in Greenville, North Carolina.

Am I wrong? :?

Thanks,

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Re: A friendly family feud

Postby HISsparrow » Sat Feb 28, 2015 12:31 pm

lish1936 wrote:Ann, please help me settle this. :D

My cousin, who is writing a book about the family's history, insists on putting commas afterthe "and." Should quote mark come before the period?

She writes: For over fourteen years we kept digging and, at the turn of the twenty-first century, a Millennium Family Reunion was held in Greenville, North Carolina.

I would rewrite the above as:

For over fourteen years we kept digging, and at the turn of the twenty-first century a Millennium Family Reunion was held in Greenville, North Carolina.

Am I wrong? :?

Thanks,

Lillian


Hi, Lillian!

I don't want to overstep my bounds or anything, but I noticed that it's been a little while since you asked your question. I thought Ann may be busy.

You should definitely put the comma before "and" when it's used join two complete sentences, so the following is correct:

"For over fourteen years we kept digging, and at the turn of the twenty-first century a Millennium Family Reunion was held in Greenville, North Carolina."

I hope this helps!

Ashley

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Re: Commas (Part One)

Postby lish1936 » Sat Feb 28, 2015 1:10 pm

Oh My, Ashley, thanks SO much for responding! Since I hadn't heard from Ann, I contacted another Faithwriter after seeing a similar sentence with the comma after the "and" in the Faithwriter Blog.

Her explanation supported the comma after the "and" because the words after it were used parenthetically. She wrote:

The comma there has nothing to do with its placement after "and." I am using the comma to set off the parenthetical phrase "for a fee." If I were using a comma as part of a series, it would in fact go before the "and" - but that is a debate that has gone on for a VERY long time. Some say you do put the comma before the and, some don't.
Hope that helped!


I understand why it's done, but based on the controversy/debate, I would conclude that both forms are acceptable. Thanks again for responding.

Blessings,

Lillian
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Re: Commas (Part One)

Postby glorybee » Sat Feb 28, 2015 3:39 pm

lish1936 wrote:Oh My, Ashley, thanks SO much for responding! Since I hadn't heard from Ann, I contacted another Faithwriter after seeing a similar sentence with the comma after the "and" in the Faithwriter Blog.

Her explanation supported the comma after the "and" because the words after it were used parenthetically. She wrote:

The comma there has nothing to do with its placement after "and." I am using the comma to set off the parenthetical phrase "for a fee." If I were using a comma as part of a series, it would in fact go before the "and" - but that is a debate that has gone on for a VERY long time. Some say you do put the comma before the and, some don't.
Hope that helped!


I understand why it's done, but based on the controversy/debate, I would conclude that both forms are acceptable. Thanks again for responding.

Blessings,

Lillian


I'm not aware of any controversy or debate on this issue, and Ashley is correct. In fact, that's the thing I correct most often when I'm editing. Commas go BEFORE the small conjunctions (and, but, or, yet, and so). Not after. The phrase that she should have set off is "and for a fee."
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Commas (Part One)

Postby swfdoc1 » Sat Feb 28, 2015 6:23 pm

I don’t think we’ve quite hit the nail on the head yet. The point is that there should be a comma BEFORE “and” as both Ashley and Jan wrote. And the reason is as Ashley stated: it joins two complete sentences (aka independent clauses). However, the second independent clause starts with an introductory phrase, “at the turn of the twenty-first century.” (Lillian, both you and Ashley dropped the needed comma after “century” in your versions.)

There is a comma rule that states one should NOT use a comma between a conjunction and an introductory modifier, clause, phrase, etc. HOWEVER, there is disagreement among authorities over this rule. Thus, if the conjunction + the second independent clause were a standalone sentence, you could punctuate it as follows:

And at the turn of the twenty-first century, a Millennium Family Reunion was held in Greenville, North Carolina.

However, those authorities who disagree would punctuate it as follows:
And, at the turn of the twenty-first century, a Millennium Family Reunion was held in Greenville, North Carolina.

Therefore, you might be tempted to believe that the actual sentence could be punctuated either of these two ways:

For over fourteen years we kept digging, and at the turn of the twenty-first century, a Millennium Family Reunion was held in Greenville, North Carolina.

For over fourteen years we kept digging, and, at the turn of the twenty-first century, a Millennium Family Reunion was held in Greenville, North Carolina.

However, arguably in the first version and certainly in the second version, the first comma needs to be changed to a semi-colon under the rule/rule of thumb that commas preceding the conjunction should be changed to semi-colons if the second independent clause is complicated or has internal commas.

Thus, the second version should be this:
For over fourteen years we kept digging; and, at the turn of the twenty-first century, a Millennium Family Reunion was held in Greenville, North Carolina.

Personally, I think the first version, but with a semi-colon, is best:
For over fourteen years we kept digging; and at the turn of the twenty-first century, a Millennium Family Reunion was held in Greenville, North Carolina.

Although I mentioned disagreement over this rule, this is not the disagreement the FaithWriter blogger was talking about. She wrote, “If I were using a comma as part of a series, it would in fact go before the ‘and’ - but that is a debate that has gone on for a VERY long time.” And that is correct. This is the debate over whether to use the last serial comma (aka the Oxford comma). In other words, I can include 3 commas in “apples, oranges, and bananas.” Or I can include only two: “apples, oranges and bananas.”

One last point: The blogger is also correct that her comma after “and” was correct because it was setting off a parenthetical or interrupting phrase. Assuming I found the correct sentence, her entire sentence was “You can send your writing to a FaithWriters-approved editor and, for a fee, get it edited and polished.” This is entirely unlike the question you asked about. Your question was about how to punctuate the conjunction combining two independent clauses. In the blogger’s sentence the “and” is combining a compound verb (“send” and “get”); therefore you CANNOT have a comma before “and.” “You can send your writing to a FaithWriters-approved editor, and get it edited and polished” is incorrect. The only purpose of the 2 commas is to set off “for a fee.”

I hope this helps clarify things.
Steve
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