“I hate commas; it seems so random the way they are used.”
“It is so hard to know when to use the comma.”
These are common complaints that I’ve heard about this most ubiquitous of punctuation marks.
The comma simply indicates a pause in speech, so if you take a breath in your mind as you read something, put a comma there. In fact, it all started with the oral tradition, when information was passed down by word of mouth. Later, a way was found to immortalize the spoken word. Scribes used symbols to create written words, but with no spaces or definition between each word. Punctuation evolved on the heels of the written word, as a way to sort out the confusion of trying to read something aloud in a way that is easy for the listener to understand and the reader to interpret.
Here are the Basic Ways to Use the Comma
- Use it to bring two thoughts or sentences together.
I love ice cream, there is always some in my fridge.
- Use it to break up a sentence that runs on and on. It is best to break up that sentence into separate clauses and use a comma after each clause.
So, instead of this:
The results of the investigation were inconclusive more time was needed to analyze the evidence and the victim died before he could be questioned.
The results of the investigation were inconclusive, more time was needed to analyze the evidence, and the victim died before he could be questioned.
- Use it to define a list.
The colors of the flag are red, blue, and white. (serial comma, with comma before and—my personal favorite, since it prevents ambiguity)
The colors of the flag are red, blue and white. (Associated Press style, with no comma before and)
Once you get into this rhythm of using the comma, you can hardly go wrong.
Let me help you put your best word forward on your documents, books, and theses. Go to my website or send me e-mail at dmariemarks.com. Then, let’s talk!