How to Use a Comma: Pro Tips about Commas for Better Writing

How to Use a Comma: Pro Tips about Commas for Better Writing

Reader Comments (26)

  1. I love grammar tools, even the hopelessly flawed Microsoft Word, because I know enough about punctuation to know when to agree and when to disagree. The computer simply asks me the question.

    And for those people who insist on putting a comma between the subject and the verb that immediately follows it, are you trying to talk like William Shatner?

  2. When I lived in DC, I was friends with a political speech writer. I listened to him prompt the politician: “When you see a comma – PAUSE. Breathe. Let a second to pass, it will give impact and clarify what you are saying by allowing the listeners to absorb the words.” As the politician stepped onto the stage, my friend once more said: Pause!! It was a very impressive speech. I believe in commas. They are powerful when used properly. As an editor, I cringe when I see them tossed about by the writer in a willy-nilly style… or ignored completely. I read a work, in it, one paragraph, 2/3 of a full page, single-spaced with only a capital letter at the start and a period at the end. No other punctuation! The author had no idea what a comma was. There were NONE in his work… well, that is until I finished editing. LOL.

  3. Bless the person(s) who invented Grammarly! I not only feel more confident using it, I’ve learned a LOT. As you suggested, rather than just blindly making corrections I look up things I don’t understand and it’s gratifying to see that I’m making fewer mistakes than when I started using it. Thanks for the important reminder.

    • It’s amazing how quickly you can progress when you use a tool like that as a prompt to check something, rather than just letting it try to write for you. 🙂 That’s how you get better!

      Thanks for your note!

  4. Ah, the comma. A comma tells you how to read. Commas also tell you when to stop, to breath, and to move forward. What a blessing. Thank goodness I err on the side of using comments, versus writing runaway sentences.

  5. Good article. Without proper use of commas and other punctuation, you sound like Archy the cockroach (and if that name doesn’t ring any bells, Google it).

  6. Amen, Sonia! The misuse and disuse of the comma is one of my biggest grammar pet peeves. I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who appreciates this seemingly lowly but incredibly important punctuation mark!

  7. I blog in English, which is not my first language. It’s harder but more fun for me. I use Grammarly to check my grammar. In my mother tongue, the comma usage is the same as in English so I also dislike the misuse and disuse of it.

  8. Oh my God….commas!! What about all the terrible, outrageous spelling I’m trying to make sense of!!! I don’t get it!

      • For a minute, I thought I was doing something wrong writing my posts.
        I have a good suggestion for your book club. “Humboldt’s Gift,” A 1976 Nobel-Prize-winning novel by Saul Bellow, who incidentally does away with commas.
        Although a novel narrative is one thing, and mandatory punctuation in blog writing, another.

  9. Writing like you talk is even more difficult, if English is not your first language. There are times I think in my native language when writing, and if I wrote things in English along my thought, it makes little sense without punctuation. The way we communicate on social media play a big role in sending punctuation marks, especially the comma, into extinction. It’s why some comments sound ridiculous. The comma is very important. I appreciated it a lot, as a theatre student.

  10. Once you realize that commas only serve one of two purposes—they either separate (used one at a time), or they enclose (used in pairs to set items or information apart), the question of whether or not to use commas becomes pretty simple.

  11. Commas save lives..
    for example, compare: Let’s eat, grandma! Let’s eat grandma! Commas save lives!

  12. Hi Sonia, that’s a really useful article. However, my problem is different. I use too many commas in my write-ups because I am always concerned that my writings don’t have enough “pauses.” I also had a couple of debates with the editors on the clients’ side about using the “Oxford” comma. Yes, I use them regularly and I don’t see any harm in using them. Still, I feel I need to get back to my long-forgotten Warriner’s English Grammar book to refresh my punctuations.

  13. The best way to explain commas and other punctuation is from “Notes on Punctuation” by Lewis Thomas. His essay is excellent and fun to read.

    Here’s the section on commas: “The commas are the most useful and usable of all the stops. It is highly important to put them in place as you go along. If you try to come back after doing a paragraph and stick them in the various spots that tempt you you will discover that they tend to swarm like minnows in all sorts of crevices whose existence you hadn’t realized and before you know it the whole long sentence becomes immobilized and lashed up squirming in commas. Better to use them sparingly, and with affection, precisely when the need for each one arises, nicely, by itself.

  14. I recently tried Grammarly for the first time and enjoyed it so much that I upgraded to the premium version. I’ve noticed that commas are my biggest weakness, according to Grammarly. Now I do tend to lean on the service to help correct me. But as a writer, I’m also trying to fix myself and get better at it where Grammarly doesn’t have to do all the work. Great post!

    • I try to frame it as Grammarly is training me…I try to pay attention to the “why” of its corrections. Maybe I will be a great writer one day. Great speller, probably not. But maybe a comma master.

  15. Using Grammarly showed me I am not great at commas, but after using it for the last year or so, I find it corrects me less often. So I suppose I am getting better, and hopefully more clear.

    It kills me with all these young people using no capitalization and no punctuation. These texts from my kids make no sense without commas. I hope they will later embrace them, so I know wtf they are actually talking about.

    Yes, I use commas in texts. And yes, that means I am old. At least I’m clear.

  16. The trouble a missing comma can get you into.
    No more Tequila!
    No, more Tequila!

  17. Very well put, the ‘comma’ makes a huge difference. A simple basic element, which can be easily overlooked or missed.
    Thanks for sharing.

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