A Short Post on Commas

I'll be honest.  This is a short post on commas because I don't know much about them.

Yeah, yeah, yeah.  I'm a writing teacher, coach and soon-to-be-published novelist.  I've got me an MFA.

And commas still confuse me.

I tend to put them in manuscripts, both mine and my students'.

But I noticed that the editor of my novel took a lot of my commas out.

This morning I worked on a student packet that needed commas after clauses of sentences.  So that meant, of course, that I had to explain to my student why I put the commas in.

And I will admit that I was pretty hopeless at it.  (If you want an extreme emphasis on grammar, don't ever hire me.  If you want great ideas about story, character, and setting, I'm your gal.)

Commas, to me, are like art: I know when they go in a sentence, but I don't necessarily know why.  So here's the explanation I offered my student and the one I offer you:

Read the sentence out loud and any time you pause, put a comma there.

That's it.  That's all I've got.

Maybe you have something better?  Some general piece of advice about commas?  A nifty site that reveals all the secrets of the beast?  Please comment.

**And if you do want to hire me, here's the scoop.  I've got amazing clients doing great work at the moment.  Wouldn't you like to be one of them?


18 Responses to A Short Post on Commas

  1. Zan Marie 10/22/2012 at 12:46 #

    Ha! I put commas in and others take them out, too. Usually I can tell you why I put them in. Unfortunately my reasons are usually so old fashioned that grammar has passed me by. ; )

  2. Charlotte Dixon 10/22/2012 at 13:05 #

    LOL!  We're sisters in comma placing then, Zan Marie.  Glad I'm not the only one!

  3. editing 10/23/2012 at 02:25 #

    Even great writers make mistakes in using commas how about the non professional writer like me. This is one of the reasons why I don’t have the confidence to join writing contests even though I’d really love to. I’m not confident in using commas when I write my essays. I hope you can give us tips on the right usage of comma soon. Thanks in advance.

  4. J.D. 10/23/2012 at 04:56 #

    I like commas. Length has always been a challenge for me. (No snide remarks, thank you.) The creative use of commas can add a thousand words to a manuscript :-)

  5. Charlotte Dixon 10/23/2012 at 08:00 #

    I'm hoping someone else will chime in with a great rule for commas, although I like mine for the interim.  In the meantime, start sending those essays out!  A misplaced comma or two is not going to prevent you from winning and they aren't doing anyone any good sitting in a drawer at home.  Get them circulating!

  6. Charlotte Dixon 10/23/2012 at 08:05 #

    LOL, J.D.  Key concept is "creative."  Love the idea of creative use of commas.  No good comma rules for us?

  7. dyoung 10/23/2012 at 08:21 #

    If a sentence you’re writing seems to be a run on, add a comma. Simple as that! My grammar is terrible. Just technicalities, that’s all! However, it can greatly change the meaning of a sentence. Such as…

    Let’s eat, grampa!
    Let’s eat grampa!

    See what I mean. So I guess those little technicalities can either make or break the correct story you are trying to convey. Important afterall.

  8. Charlotte Dixon 10/23/2012 at 08:30 #

    Yes, with regret I acknowledge that commas are important–your examples prove that point.  But I like your simple rule about run-on sentences!

  9. Jessica Baverstock 10/23/2012 at 18:50 #

    The best explanation I’ve ever read is in Bill Walsh’s book ‘Lapsing Into a Comma.’ It goes for several pages and the content is so good it would be an injustice to boil it down for this comment. His explanations are straight forward and his examples are easy to understand (even funny at times).

    As a writer, it’s always good to have a book like this on the shelf. I find Walsh’s book much easier to read than other similar books because he’s got a sense of humour.

    Here’s the link to his book:

    He also has a blog with handy editing tips:

    In the end though, isn’t this why we have editors? If we could all put our commas in exactly the right places, they’d be out of a job! Wouldn’t that be an unkindness to the profession?

  10. Charlotte Dixon 10/23/2012 at 20:03 #

    Thanks for the links and info on Bill Wash, Jessica, I've not heard of him so I'll check him out.  And yes, I agree, thank goodness for editors!  I love the way you think, that our misplaced commas are saving their profession.

  11. Sandra / Always Well Within 10/23/2012 at 21:17 #

    It seems to me that there’s a certain degree of stylistic preference when it comes to commas. I know there are some basic rules, but beyond that I work intuitively. And editors never seem to agree on the comma beast!

  12. Charlotte Dixon 10/23/2012 at 21:37 #

    Glad I'm not the only one who does it intuitively!  Thanks for commenting, Sandra!

  13. Anne Wayman 10/24/2012 at 10:28 #

    Charlotte, as far as I’m concerned you’ve got it exactly right and all the technical reasons are just hokum.

  14. Charlotte Dixon 10/24/2012 at 11:28 #

    I love you, Anne.  Thank you for the validation.

  15. Trevor Crocker 10/24/2012 at 14:59 #

    A good start for `would be` comma writers is to use them to cushion subordinate clauses (or dependent clauses as you Americans call them) from the rest of the sentence,as in this example, “The dog,a vicious cresture, barked all night.” This example is, of course, an embedded subordinate clause and so two commas are required.Learning to move the subordinate clause around the sentence for maximum effect is a big part of the mechanical craft of a writer.

  16. Charlotte Dixon 10/24/2012 at 15:02 #

    Trevor, you win the prize for actual explanation of how to use a comma.  Thank you!  You're also very fun to tweet with, by the way.

  17. Trevor Crocker 10/24/2012 at 15:03 #

    It is also a good idea to check that your keyboard has not spelt `Creature` with an `S`.

  18. Charlotte Dixon 10/24/2012 at 15:05 #


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