A comma can be tricky in these days of minimal punctuation.
In the old days, we stuck them anyway to show we really knew how to use a comma. Get as many in as you could seemed to be the motto.
These days we like our work to look cleaner and slick.
A comma is like the orchestra of our words. They put expression and meaning where you really want them.
Slow, children crossing – means slow down, children are crossing the road.
Slow children crossing – means that slow dawdling children are crossing the road.
Getting it right can be tricky at the best of times. Try reading your words out loud to get your meaning, and think where you are pausing.
Use the comma:
- Between items in a series of words, phrases or clauses.
Correct: We placed the books, pencils, paper, and the new tray on the desk ready for work.
Incorrect : We placed, the books, pencils, paper, and the new tray on the desk ready for work.
- Don’t use a comma if an adjective is supporting another adjective
Correct: I love that rich chocolate cake.
Incorrect: I love that rich, chocolate cake
- Use the comma after introductory words
In February 2012, we agreed to finally go on an overseas holiday.
- Use a comma when you are adding words that are not essential to your main meaning.
Correct: The agreement was, however unpopular, unanimous.
The word ‘however unpopular’ is not really needed, it is added only for additional information.
The sentence is really’The agreement was unanimous’.
Incorrect: The agreement was however unpopular unanimous. What are you saying?
- Use a comma when speaking to someone
Correct: Let’s eat, Johnny.
Thank goodness we put that comma in otherwise we would have been eating Johnny.
Incorrect: ‘Lets eat Johnny’. He wasn’t that tasty anyway.
- Comma’s help out with numbers, dates and addresses
Correct: In 2012, 50,000 people attended the Sydney Festival.
The crowd that attended the footie final last Sunday numbered 20,000, far more than last year.
On February 12, 2012, Brad and Angie decided to get a divorce.
- Use a comma if words in a sentence are repeated
Correct: Whatever she did, did nothing to help the situation.
Incorrect: Whatever she did did nothing to help the situation
Spellcheck would probable pick that up and tell you to delete one of the ‘did’s’ which would leave you with’ Whatever she did nothing to help the situation’. Doesn’t make sense.
Some simple places NOT to use a comma:
- Between a subject and its verb
A plan was announced.
Not ‘A plan, was announced’.
- Between a verb and its object
They announced a plan for the whole school.
Not ‘They announced, a plan for the whole school’.
Have a look at this comma and decide for yourself.
Which one of these do you prefer.
Eat here, and get gas.
Eat here and get gas.
I prefer the first one, but who knows, you may prefer the second. Happy eating.