• Slipping into Commas


    Master the comma and you master punctuation. Here are six times to use them, and one not to:


    1. In lists.  Use commas to separate items in lists.  The one before the final “and” is optional; I leave it out. (Example:  I eat paste, peanut brittle, papayas and pork.) Lists can include actions, not just things.


    1. As brackets around an interrupting description. (Pinky, her hair twirling, snorted.) These commas work in pairs. They usually come between the subject and the verb.


    1. After introductory phrases/clauses (or before concluding phrases/clauses). If it begins with some word like because, since, if, when, while, or as, it’s an introductory phrase or dependent (also known as “subordinate”) clause. Separate this front part of the sentence from the main part with a comma. (While arriving, I was spat upon.) Basically, if you have a modifying phrase or clause, you can interrupt the subject-verb sentence with it, like in #2 (Pinky, her hair twirling, snorted); start the sentence with it, like in this example (Her hair twirling, Pinky snorted), or you can end the sentence with it, in which case you might separate it out with a comma (Pinky snorted, her hair twirling) but might not (I was spat upon while arriving.)


    1. a.   In dialogue, between s/he said and the quote that follows.  (Mom said, “Eat your paste.”)


    b.       The last period in dialogue also becomes a comma before s/he said. (“Eat your paste,” Mom said.) Note that Mom is really saying a period, but on the page it’s a comma inside the quotes. (Just because you have quotation marks, though, doesn’t mean you need a comma before them. Only before dialogue. Not before “air quotes” or excerpts of written work: see how there’s no comma between before and air quotes in this sentence?)


    1. Before a conjunction (like “and” or “but”) when it is followed by a clause.  (Ex.:  I eat paste, and I dance.)  But not before a conjunction when it is followed by a phrase (I eat paste and dance on tables all night long.) This rule separates the grown-ups from the kids. A clause has a subject noun (I) and a verb (dance). It can stand alone as a sentence. (I dance.) A phrase has one or the other. It can’t stand alone as a sentence: “dance on tables all night long” needs a subject to stand alone, even though it’s longer than the clause “I dance.”


    1. After words like “however” and “similarly.” These are called conjunctive adverbs: they are technically adverbs but act like conjunctions because they connect clauses. They get punctuated differently from real conjunctions because they are a different part of speech, even though they may mean the same thing, like but and however do. Put a period or semi-colon before these. Put a comma after them.  (Ex: The paste was yummy; however, it is all gone.)  Note: a comma follows however, but not but (a conjunction). (The paste was yummy, but it is all gone.) Remember the rule: “But flows.” 


    -1. Note: Here’s one time not to use a comma: between two independent clauses (as in, each with a subject and verb). That’s called a comma splice. Instead, use a period, a semi-colon, or add a conjunction like “and” or “but.”  (Wrong: I like you, you’re purty. Right: I like you; you’re purty. Or:  I like you. You’re purty. Or: I like you, and you’re purty.)
    To Do
    Print out and try some of the comma assessments below. Here is a link to a Word document of them if that helps. Then revise a story or essay you have written for commas. For an extra bonus, find something you wrote, circle each comma and label it with a number from the list above to show what it does.  Finally, go forth and use commas correctly in all your writing for the rest of your life. Thanks!
    Comma Assessments

    Comma Asessment 1     (v1)                                Name ___________________________

    Add any commas the following sentences need. Nothing else. Some might not need any.

    1.       We walked to Red Hill San Rafael Mill Valley and San Francisco.


    2.       My four nicknames are Stinky Jelly-Roll Peanuthead and Handsome Hal.


    3.       My mother her hair in curlers sings song after song to the sleeping jockeys.


    4.       Elephants their trunks holding cell phones high bellow along to Beyonce’s encore.


    5.       When I think of you I merrily vomit.


    6.       While we ate you kept checking your cell phone.


    7.       I said “Of course I’ll marry that chimpanzee!”


    8.       “I refuse to toilet paper your swimming pool” the talking duck said calmly.


    9.       Jerry enjoys juice and Jane is a junkie.


    10.   Jerry enjoys juice and dancing with Junkie Jane.


    11.   Your bologna has a first name but my bologna has a Porsche.


    12.   Your bologna has a first name but no class.


    13.   However the good news is that she’ll dump you. 


    14.   Similarly my mother wrestled alligators.






    Comma Asessment 1     (v2)                                  Name ___________________________

    Add any commas the following sentences need. Nothing else. Some might not need any.

    1.       Everybody loves hugs handshakes massages and money.


    2.       Why aren’t there more mosquitoes ticks spiders and evil skeletons?


    3.       All the merry firemen their hoses mighty with blasting water stifle that nasty fire.


    4.       The sleepy driads drunk on sunrise and morning dew vomit into their homemade hats.


    5.       If you love me you’ll murder my ex-wife


    6.       As the band played the encore the villain lustily twirled his fake moustache.


    7.        Bradley said “My name is Chelsea now.”


    8.       “These pancakes taste like flapjacks” said the idiotic talking waffle.


    9.       Polar bears are going extinct and you don’t hear them crying about it.


    10.   Polar bears are going extinct and not crying about it.


    11.   Oliver eats paste but your mom sniffs glue.


    12.   Oliver eats paste but not your mom’s glue.


    13.   Interestingly she was boring.


    14.   However it’s never too late to go see the sunrise.



    Comma Asessment 1     (v3)                                        Name ___________________________

    Add any commas the following sentences need. Nothing else. Some might not need any.

    1.       All of the children dogs and trolls walked single-file.


    2.       My favorite days of the week are Saturday Wednesday Lumday and Pearday.


    3.       The quiet leprechaun immersed in his thoughts belched loudly.


    4.       The lonely ferret deprived of all ferret-contact found love with a starving raccoon.


    5.       When the phone rang I jumped under the bed.


    6.       If I see one more “Keep Calm And…” shirt I’m going to freak out.


    7.       My sister Katie asked “How do they decide when to turn on the windmills?”


    8.       “Hiccup” said Sneezy.


    9.       Reality is on TV and my life is a game.


    10.   Reality is on TV and rich people’s smartphones.


    11.   My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard but my smoothies are to die for.


    12.   My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard but not into the house.


    13.   However an apology can still make things worse.


    14.   Consequently the world exploded and nobody read this sentence.



    Comma Asessment 1     (v4)                               Name ___________________________

    Add any commas the following sentences need. Nothing else. Some might not need any.

    1.       The warriors fairies were-bears and Claymation blobs refuse to share bendy straws.


    2.       All of my teeth jewelry gumdrops and marbles are in this zip-lock bag.


    3.       My morning gargling interrupted by a phone call from the President resumed.


    4.       The lovely town square which was full of hangings again this morning made me wish for a future of humane executions.


    5.       While the monkeys danced the flamingoes sadly smoked unfiltered cigarettes.


    6.       If these statistics are correct 100% of statistics are incorrect.


    7.       Jimmy Chew of Kalamazoo exclaimed “Woo-woo!”


    8.       “I plucked my eyebrows” said the Bearded Lady.


    9.       The moon is full and my soul is empty. 


    10.   The moon is full and slowly pulsating.


    11.   Coyotes howl all night but their throats never get sore.


    12.   Coyotes howl all night but not all day.


    13.   However the upside is that everyone must experience despair sooner or later.


    14.   Similarly all my pets are albinos.





    Comma Assessment

    All the commas have been removed from the Onion article below. Put them back.

    Poll: Majority Of Americans Approve Of Sending Congress To Syria

    Sep 5 2013


    WASHINGTON—As President Obama continues to push for a plan of limited military intervention in Syria a new poll of Americans has found that though the nation remains wary over the prospect of becoming involved in another Middle Eastern war the vast majority of U.S. citizens strongly approve of sending Congress to Syria.

    The New York Times/CBS News poll showed that though just 1 in 4 Americans believe that the United States has a responsibility to intervene in the Syrian conflict more than 90 percent of the public is convinced that putting all 535 representatives of the United States Congress on the ground in Syria—including Senate pro tempore Patrick Leahy House Speaker John Boehner House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and in fact all current members of the House and Senate—is the best course of action at this time.

    “I believe it is in the best interest of the United States and the global community as a whole to move forward with the deployment of all U.S. congressional leaders to Syria immediately” respondent Carol Abare 50 said in the nationwide telephone survey echoing the thoughts of an estimated 9 in 10 Americans who said they “strongly support” any plan of action that involves putting the U.S. House and Senate on the ground in the war-torn Middle Eastern state. “With violence intensifying every day now is absolutely the right moment—the perfect moment really—for the United States to send our legislators to the region.”

    “In fact my preference would have been for Congress to be deployed months ago” she added.



    Comma Assessment

    All the commas have been removed from the Onion article below. Put them back.

    Obama Assures Americans This Will Not Be Another 1456 Ottoman Siege Of Belgrade

    Sep 3 2013


    The president says the situation in Syria bears no resemblance to the failed 15th Turkish Siege of Belgrade.

    WASHINGTON—As fierce debate continued this week over a proposed military strike on Syria President Obama stressed to all Americans Monday that any U.S. involvement in the Middle Eastern country would not in any way mirror the 1456 Ottoman Siege of Belgrade.

    “I of course realize that many people around the country are concerned that an intervention in Syria would devolve into another Siege of Belgrade but I can assure you that this operation will be swift decisive and will in no way resemble the Ottoman Empire’s ill-advised invasion of Nándorfehérvár” Obama told the assembled White House Press Corps. “Our mission in Syria is fundamentally different from that of the Ottomans 550 years ago—there will be absolutely no boots on the ground the attacks will only last for two or three days at the most and we will under no circumstances be deploying a fleet of 200 galleys and 300 cannons.”

    “I can promise you this: My administration and I will not repeat the mistakes of Sultan Mehmed II” Obama continued. “Believe me we have all learned the lessons from the campaign to subjugate the Kingdom of Hungary following the fall of Constantinople.”



Last Modified on August 17, 2016