Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Most Mis (over) used Punctuation Mark

An Obsessive-compulsive’s treatise on use of the comma

In my years of reading and writing everything from stories to business letters, I don’t think I’ve seen anything responsible for more hatchet jobs than the comma. Please repeat after me, people. If I can’t justify its presence, it doesn’t belong. Many of us are guilty of scattering commas throughout our writing much like salt – another over-used item, but I digress. Oh, I’m not sure why, but it seems like a comma belongs here. NO. Don’t misunderstand me. I know there are so many rules governing the use of the comma that many writers simply throw up their hands and give up. They assume the stance that over-using such a confusing punctuation mark is forgivable. It’s not. I’m not pointing fingers. Well…I am, but consider this a lesson wrapped in love. Nothing prompts me to put a book down faster than bad grammar, and I’m certainly not the only reader who feels that way. That said, let’s get to it and snatch away those unnecessary commas!

The comma has seven uses. That’s it – seven. Remember our mantra? If I can’t justify its presence, it doesn’t belong. Get to it, you say. What are the mystical seven?
1. Use commas to separate items in a series. Taming of the Wolf includes “Shadow State,” “Blood Moon,” “Raven’s Shelter,” “Marek’s New World,” and “Werewolves in London.”
2. Use a comma to separate two or more adjectives preceding a noun. There is something for paranormal, interracial, and historical romance lovers in Taming of the Wolf.
3. Use a comma before and, but, or, nor, for, and yet when they join independent clauses (unless the independent clauses are very short). The existence of werewolves is acknowledged in “Blood Moon,” but not in “Raven’s Shelter.”
4. Use commas to set off nonessential clauses and nonessential participial phrases. “Marek’s World,” which tells of a warrior from the past, is a story you won’t be able to put down.
5. Use a comma after certain introductory elements.
a. Words at the beginning of a sentence such as yes, well, no, why, etc. Why, I stayed awake long past my bedtime reading “Werewolves in London!”
b. An introductory participial phrase. Reading like a mad woman, she rushed to finish “Raven’s Shelter.”
c. A succession of introductory prepositional phrases. As I came to the end of “Shadow State” where I was near the beginning of “Blood Moon,” I was impressed with the first story in our anthology.
d. An introductory adverb clause. While Marek ran to save the other warriors in “Marek’s New World,” I was on pins and needles!
6. Use commas to set off expressions that interrupt the sentence.
a. Appositives. Karen, a veterinarian, is immediately aware of Raven’s beauty in “Raven’s Shelter.”
b. Words in direct address. Ladies, our shifters are to die for!
c. Parenthetical expressions. Taming of the Wolf, I am sure, will have you begging for Got Wolf anthology number three.

and of course…

7. Use a comma in certain conventional situations.
a. To separate items in dates and addresses.
b. After the salutation of a friendly letter
c. After a name followed by Jr., Sr., Ph.D., etc.

Don’t you agree that there are plenty legitimate reasons to use the comma? Let’s not waste time making up more and sprinkling them hairy-scary throughout our writing. Poetic or creative license does not extend to overuse of the comma. If use of the comma is not justified by one of these seven rules, please, if only to ease my discomfort, don’t use it. Finally, no more finger-pointing, but repeat after me one last time. If I can’t justify its presence, it doesn’t belong. I’ll be watching.


  1. Great post! I love the humor. The comma is definitely overused.

  2. Yes! Finally, I will have help with my comma fettish! I'm keeping this on my desk. Thank you very much.

  3. I learned a lot about comma usage when I took shorthand, back when, in high school. I have my word is set to catch those things. I sometimes think I’m the only person who uses the grammar stuff in word. It doesn’t catch everything, but it works good for me. I noticed lately it even is catching my typos for tow for two. I might have set that in there, but hey whatever works right?

  4. Great post, Dariel! I love how you used the Got Wolf? anthology in your examples.

    I was an English major in college many, many years ago and find I often need to brush up on my grammar. Don't think I overuse commas, though. According to my editors, I don't use enough or use them in the wrong places.

  5. The comma is my nemesis, I always overuse it like an amateur. But, I just keep trying to do it right?

  6. I have to keep my English Grammar and Composition right beside me. It's amazing how much we forget over time :)

  7. Dubbed the comma-queen by most who know me, I thank you for this post :)I'm really trying...

  8. LOL. Sister Flagg, you are obviously not alone :)

  9. I thought I was an abuser of the comma. I feel better now. Thanks for the info!

  10. Ugh. I try to operate on Stephen King's rules for comma use in fiction in ON WRITING. My editors usually want more. I'm fortunate they don't make me add 100s. LOL. But these eyes often miss a blooper or two. Apparently, there's way too much going on inside my head... But that's why we have our guardian editors, eh?