The Curious Case Of Common Comma Mistakes
Commas help you to create a pause or introduce a necessary break within a complex sentence. While comma usage is governed by some rules, this still remains a predominantly grey area based on context.
Why is the usage of a comma so important, you ask? Consider this (literally) fatal error, that turned this little girl into a cannibal!
Incorrect: Go to sleep, because you’ve already eaten Grandma.
Correct: Go to sleep because you’ve already eaten, Grandma.
However, the quickest way to master the use of commas lies in abstaining from their abuse. People tend to either forget the mark where necessary or add enough that you’re pausing more than reading which ultimately leads to a confused and disinterested reader or a possibly extremely frustrated editor!
Compiled below is a list of glaring mistakes that you NEED to take note of:
1) To comma or not to comma?
There are a thousand different scenarios where commas may or may not be needed; and it’s natural to find yourself unsure of their usage. Here are a few imperative ones:
- Never put a comma between the subject and the verb
A comma should never separate the subject (the person or thing who’s doing the action) from the verb (the action itself). At best, doing this disrupts the reader’s rhythm, thus making your sentence a little harder to understand.
At worst, it completely changes the meaning of the sentence.
Incorrect: That coffee on the table, is mine.
Correct: That coffee on the table is mine.
Incorrect: Pretty girls heading our way, look cool.
Correct: Pretty girls heading our way look cool.
- Never write run-on sentences
The fundamental difference between a sentence and a paragraph is the usage of periods (.). However, some people choose to substitute periods between sentences with commas, producing what are called run-on sentences, this merely gets the reader wondering when, and if, the sentence is ever going to end, the whole paragraph becomes quite unintelligible.
See what I did there? Don’t use commas to put complete sentences together. Period (not comma!).
- ‘That’ is a restricted area
Approach with caution. A comma preceding ‘that’ is often incorrect. ‘That’ is generally used to introduce a restrictive clause. So when I say, ‘All the library books that I read taught me nothing,’ I’m referring only to the specific books that I read – not to all the books in the library. My meaning is restricted to items that fulfil the description placed after ‘that’.
Incorrect: The colours, that were used to decorate the hall complemented the theme perfectly.
Correct: The colours that were used to decorate the hall complemented the theme perfectly.
* As a side note, if I really wanted to say I read all the library books (fat chance!), I’d write, ‘All the library books, which I read, taught me nothing.’ The word ‘which’ (always used with two commas!) helps you create a nonrestrictive clause, where meaning isn’t limited by the description following ‘which’.
2) Dear Comma
Addressing someone or signing off in an email or a letter involves a few simple comma rules. You’d be surprised at how often these commas are misused – so here are the rules, to help you avoid mistakes that can create a bad impression in a professional environment.
Incorrect: Yours, Sincerely
Incorrect: Yours Sincerely
Correct: Yours Sincerely,
Incorrect: Dear, Anna,
Incorrect: Dear Anna
Correct: Dear Anna,
3) The Legend of the Oxford Comma – A Story Untold
If you’re unaware of the age-old war over the Oxford comma, fret not – you aren’t alone. The Oxford comma, previously used in the printing and publishing industry alone, is basically a comma placed before the penultimate item in a list. It comes before a conjunction (typically and/or) and makes a world of difference to the clarity of your sentence.
Strangely enough, despite the name, the Oxford comma typically isn’t used in the UK and is much more common in American English. Wherever you live, you should definitely use the Oxford comma to avoid confusing readers about your meaning:
Incorrect: Her bachelorette party had two strippers, her boss and her sister.
Correct: Her bachelorette party had two strippers, her boss, and her sister.
Incorrect: I love my new cupcake recipes: chocolate, vanilla, jelly and peanut butter and strawberry.
Correct: I love my new cupcake recipes: chocolate, vanilla, jelly and peanut butter, and strawberry.
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