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Be a Better Writer--COMMAS ARE TRICKY

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

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Be a Better Writer--COMMAS ARE TRICKY

Postby glorybee » Sat Jun 28, 2014 7:45 am

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:

1. granddaughters
2. stop
3. candy
4. fortunately
5. on
6. wrist
7. eggs

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.
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--COMMAS ARE TRICKY

Postby Cinnamon Bear » Sat Jun 28, 2014 7:22 pm

:sofa

I put the comma in the correct place for those seven sentences. Too bad I can't get it right all the time. Now let me see, do I put a comma after "bad"..........? :oops:

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Re: Be a Better Writer--COMMAS ARE TRICKY

Postby glorybee » Sat Jun 28, 2014 7:37 pm

Cinnamon Bear wrote::sofa

I put the comma in the correct place for those seven sentences. Too bad I can't get it right all the time. Now let me see, do I put a comma after "bad"..........? :oops:

Cinnamon Bear


Nope.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--COMMAS ARE TRICKY

Postby BrotherAnthony » Mon Jun 30, 2014 12:15 am

I fear I am a compulsive comma user ... thank you for the guidance, Jan

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Re: Be a Better Writer--COMMAS ARE TRICKY

Postby glorybee » Mon Jun 30, 2014 2:38 pm

Jim, I'm not sure why, but I'd rather see a person use too many commas than too few.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--COMMAS ARE TRICKY

Postby RachelM » Wed Jul 02, 2014 1:24 am

Commas have been the hardest thing for me to grasp when it comes to grammar. I was happy to see that I knew where all of the commas should go in your examples, but I did need to think about some of them, so it's not natural yet.

Was the second comma in my last sentence right? I know that I need to use a comma when I'm joining two independent clauses with a conjunction, but that last comma seems like it could stay or go.

Em dashes are also hard for me to really grasp, although I do love them! Have you done a lesson on them? If not, I'm going to ask about them in your next "ask me anything" post.

P.S.- Is that last comma properly placed? Ugh. So much uncertainty!
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Re: Be a Better Writer--COMMAS ARE TRICKY

Postby glorybee » Wed Jul 02, 2014 7:19 am

RachelM wrote:Commas have been the hardest thing for me to grasp when it comes to grammar. I was happy to see that I knew where all of the commas should go in your examples, but I did need to think about some of them, so it's not natural yet.

Was the second comma in my last sentence right? I know that I need to use a comma when I'm joining two independent clauses with a conjunction, but that last comma seems like it could stay or go.

Em dashes are also hard for me to really grasp, although I do love them! Have you done a lesson on them? If not, I'm going to ask about them in your next "ask me anything" post.

P.S.- Is that last comma properly placed? Ugh. So much uncertainty!


Rachel, all of your commas in this post are correct.

I'm a huge fan of em dashes, and will look forward to answering your question. I'll have an "Ask me anything" post later this week.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--COMMAS ARE TRICKY

Postby lish1936 » Sat Jul 05, 2014 12:16 pm

Yay! I got them right. :D

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Re: Be a Better Writer--COMMAS ARE TRICKY

Postby lish1936 » Sat Jul 05, 2014 3:27 pm

Jan, when you have time. I'm always leery of "run-on" sentences. I think this might be one of them.

For two weeks after I planted them, the bushes were ablaze with eye-catching flowers that garnered numerous compliments from my neighbors, until the heavens turned on the shower–full force.

Aside from the sentence, I think "its shower" is more accurate.

Thanks,

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Re: Be a Better Writer--COMMAS ARE TRICKY

Postby glorybee » Sat Jul 05, 2014 3:44 pm

Lillian, it's not a run-on. It's actually quite a lovely sentence. As for the word in question, since it refers back to "heavens," the correct pronoun would be "their," followed by "showers."
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Re: Be a Better Writer--COMMAS ARE TRICKY

Postby Cinnamon Bear » Sat Jul 05, 2014 4:26 pm

Jan, I hope it is okay for me to use two examples from my manuscript that you corrected. I hope that my question regarding commas will be of general interest.

Regarding the rule for using a comma before “who”, I am under the impression that a comma should only be used if the clause beginning with “who” is not required to identify that person.

For example:

1) She smiled at Violet, who rushed to the task.

2) "Today I looked after a dear old gentleman who thinks the way I talk is just charming.”


I don’t understand why the first sentence should have a comma before “who”, but the second sentence should not.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--COMMAS ARE TRICKY

Postby glorybee » Sat Jul 05, 2014 4:52 pm

In the first sentence, 'who' begins a second part of the sentence with further action. In the second, 'who' starts a phrase that further identifies the old man.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--COMMAS ARE TRICKY

Postby lish1936 » Sat Jul 05, 2014 5:48 pm

Cinnamon Bear wrote:Regarding the rule for using a comma before “who”, I am under the impression that a comma should only be used if the clause beginning with “who” is not required to identify that person.

For example:

1) She smiled at Violet, who rushed to the task.

2) "Today I looked after a dear old gentleman who thinks the way I talk is just charming.”


Jan wrote:In the first sentence, 'who' begins a second part of the sentence with further action. In the second, 'who' starts a phrase that further identifies the old man.


Jan are you saying that both sentences require a comma before "who?"

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Re: Be a Better Writer--COMMAS ARE TRICKY

Postby Cinnamon Bear » Sat Jul 05, 2014 5:53 pm

Thanks, Jan.

I am confused about the placement of commas in reference to strong (independent) and weak (dependent) clauses. I was under the impression that if a weak clause follows a strong clause, a comma is not needed to separate them.

For example (also from my manuscript):

1) Agnes gazed at her, but did not speak.

2) She ate no lunch but drank some juice and broth.

I don’t understand why the first sentence should have a comma before the dependent clause, but the second sentence should not.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--COMMAS ARE TRICKY

Postby glorybee » Sat Jul 05, 2014 6:26 pm

Lillian, no. The sentences were correct as Virginia presented them in her original post.
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