I raged the other day. The poor comma. It’s one of the most misused punctuation marks out there, probably because there’s so many ways to use, and therefore abuse, it. It’s understandable in some cases. Proper comma usage is confusing. I know I mess it up. There are two uses, however, that are so basic. And yet I see them done wrong all the time. These are direct address and compound sentences.
When someone is addressed, separate their name/title/pronoun substitute with a comma. I’ll use a famous little joke to prove my point.
“Let’s eat grandpa.”
“Let’s eat, grandpa.”
Not only does the comma save grandpa’s life here, it changes the meaning of the sentence. In the first, the speaker is suggesting grandpa would make a nice meal. In the second, the speaker is telling/inviting grandpa to partake in a meal that is, in fact, not comprised of grandpa (or at least not that particular grandpa). I can’t even begin to say how many times I see the comma of direct address left off. Writers, I beg you, it’s a small, simple thing. Do it.
“I wanted to go to the party but mom said I couldn’t.”
“I wanted to go to the party, but mom said I couldn’t.”
There are lies spreading that when “and” connects two sentences, the comma is not needed. This is, as I just said, a lie. You need the comma before a conjunction in a compound sentence with “and,” “or,” “but,” “nor,” “so,” “for,” and “yet.” I repeat. You need the comma.
As a matter of style, it is sometimes said the comma can be dropped before conjunctions separating very short sentences. While this may be the case. Don’t do it. You will be taken less seriously as a writer.
As an addendum to this point, don’t add commas when the conjunction does not separate complete thoughts.
“She swept the floor, and made the bed.”
“She swept the floor and made the bed.”
And I wonder what it says about MS Word’s “grammar check” that it didn’t pick up these errors. *faceplant*
Anyway, go forth and use commas in these situations correctly.
Thanks for your comma patience.
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