I’m going to set poetry aside for a week or two and do something I said I wasn’t going to do again: I’m presenting a grammar lesson. I’ve been doing a lot of editing this spring and summer, of both FaithWriters and non-FaithWriters, and I’ve noticed a certain comma error that occurs again and again. Maybe presenting this lesson will help a little bit, if this is an error that you sometimes make.
Let me start by saying that commas are hard. There are so many writing circumstances that call for commas, and it’s difficult to remember them all. I’m not going to try to cover all of the comma rules—not even close—but I’ll give you this one (and also its exceptions):
Use a comma after an introductory element.
I really don’t want to get into a lot of grammatical terms and definitions, but I’m sure you understand “introductory element.” Here are a few examples of sentences without commas for their introductory elements. See if you can figure out where the commas should go.
1. Although Jan loves her granddaughters she doesn’t enjoy working with large groups of children.
2. As the roller coaster came to a stop Jan vowed she would never again come near one.
3. After Piper ate the cotton candy her mouth was sticky and blue.
4. Fortunately my ankle did not break when I tripped down the stairs.
5. Until the electricity comes back on we’ll have to use flashlights.
6. A gold bracelet shimmering on her wrist Deb waved frantically to try to hail a passing cab.
7. To make easy-to-peel hard boiled eggs be sure that the eggs are not perfectly fresh.
I’ll put the answers at the end of the lesson.
Also of note:
8. If a sentence begins with yes, no, absolutely, well, indeed, (and similar words), use a comma after that word.
9. If a sentence begins by addressing a person, set off the person’s name with a comma.
And here are a few exceptions:
10. If a sentence begins with one of the short conjunctions (and, but, so, yet) do not use a comma. Do not use a comma there.
11. Short sentences with short introductory elements do not necessarily need commas. A few examples:
Last night we walked to the park.
By July I hope to lose five pounds.
Luckily this should not be difficult.
(I’ll admit that I really want to put commas in the above sentences. The commas wouldn’t be wrong, but they’re not necessary).
This lesson only scratches the surface of correct comma usage—there are roughly a bajillion comma rules. Feel free to ask me about anything in the lesson, or any other questions you might have about commas.
Answers--In the questions at the beginning of the lesson, the commas should go after the following words:
A note: I’ll be able to answer your questions on commas (or on anything else), but I probably won’t post a new lesson for two or three weeks. On July 4, my husband and I are taking granddaughter #1 to visit granddaughter #2 in Florida for several days. We’ll go home to recover for two short days, and then off again for eight days of church camp. I’ll have my computer with me and will have time to respond to posts once a day or so, but I won’t be writing new lessons.
I may, however, post an “ask me anything” invitation—those have been helpful in the past. In the meantime, I encourage you to catch up with old lessons and to post writing to the Critique Circle.