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01/10/2013

Fundamental Comma Rules, Part One

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Many people find the comma to be the most difficult piece of punctuation to master. There are so many rules governing its usage, and many of those rules are somewhat fluid, allowing for writer preference. And sometimes comma rules are deliberately ignored in favor of aesthetics and readability. If you struggle with comma confusion, you can start by focusing a few of the fundamentals. Today I’ll discuss commas and coordinating conjunctions. Hold on to your hats!

The rule: Use a comma before a coordinating conjunction linking two independent clauses.

Ack, what does all that mean? Let’s break it down.

When you think “coordinating conjunction,” think FANBOYS—for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so. They’re connectors.

When you think “independent clause,” think “complete sentence”—a group of words that contains a subject and a verb and expresses a complete thought.

Example: I went to bed early. “I” is the subject, and “went” is the verb.

Example: My partner’s horrible breath kept me awake all night. “Breath” is the subject, and “kept” is the verb.

Now suppose you wanted to combine those two sentences into one. You’d choose the appropriate conjunction, place a comma before it, and tuck that between the clauses. So:

I went to bed early, but my partner’s horrible breath kept me awake all night.

Here are a few more examples:

I’d like to go to yoga class, but I’m feeling a little gassy.

I’m allergic to salmon, so I’d better not order the seafood special.

Office Cat is diabetic, and he follows a special diet.

Pretty straightforward, right? It is, generally, but you should also remember that some of these conjunctions don’t always act as conjunctions. Take “so,” for example. It can also be an adverb, in which case you would not apply this rule.

Example: I have so much to say about commas.

The same is true for “yet”; when used as an adverb, this rule doesn’t apply.

Example: I have yet to understand the physics behind the Ancient Alien guy’s hair.

Also remember that several of these conjunctions are used to join words and phrases too, not just independent clauses. You wouldn’t use a comma when they’re joining things other than independent clauses.

Example: I want ketchup and mustard on this cheese dog.

Example: I want neither ketchup nor mustard on this cheese dog.

Woo! Now we’re having fun. Want to test yourself? Determine where the commas go in the following sentences:

I bought a gift for you and I hope you like it.

It was expensive so I hope you express appropriate gratitude and treasure it forever.

Let’s go outside so you can open it.

You can try to guess what it is but I bet you can’t.

Yup, it’s a dirigible! Buckle up and let’s go for a ride.

Next up: Commas in a direct address. Yeehaw, y’all!

Posted by: ADMIN

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