Concrete Detail

Write like a reader, read like a writer and edit like a beast!


I am getting a little silly with the titles of my blog post. I like it!  In my head, I keep singing “comma, comma, comma, chameleon”.  I know those are not the words to the song, but at the same time, it was a bad song.  Catchy, but bad none the less.

Let’s dive in and get this over with.  I know I chose to write about when to use commas, but honestly writing a post on grammar is terrifying!  You have to go through it a thousand times and you STILL miss your mistakes! Also, I am not a grammar guru.  All the information on this post is presented only after researching and wading through a bunch of stuff in books and websites devoted to grammar.  I’m just trying to present it in a simple easy to understand manner.

Commas used with nonessential elements of a sentence.

This is the one very clear memory I have when learning grammar as a kid.  I had a teacher, her name was Ms. Crowe, she was also my Sunday School teacher.  I saw this woman six days week; therefore, I did not get away with ANYTHING!

The rule she drilled into my little head was this:  When your sentence has nonessential words or phrases (and clauses- I don’t remember her say it but it’s true), you put that information between commas.  Nonessential means things that don’t change the meaning of your sentence.

EXAMPLE:  The pastor, hoping for higher attendance, offered a gift card to visitors.

hoping for higher attendance is a nonessential phrase.  Read the sentence without the phrase:  The pastor offered gift cards to visitors.

While “hoping for higher attendance” does give the reader the pastor’s motive the sentence doesn’t need this phrase to make it a complete sentence that stands alone.

This is also true if you have nonessential clauses.

EXAMPLE: My grandmother, who is eighty-five, walks six miles a day.

Figuring out what is actually essential and nonessential can be tricky but that is a lesson for another day! Ms. Crowe would be so proud of me for remembering this one.

  • Okay, other uses of commas would be after an introductory phrase, words that come before the main clause.  See the Okay in the previous sentence for the example – clever huh?
  • When you have three or more words, phrases, or clauses in a written series.  Look, I did it again.
  • You also want to use commas whenever it is necessary to prevent possible misreading.   That’s a good idea, right? Oh boy, I am on fire today.    –NOTE:  this rule is where all the fun comma joke come from such as…

I like cooking my family my friends and my pets. Use commas here so you are not a cannibal.

  • Use a comma to shift from the main discourse and a quotation.  EXAMPLE:  “I was able,” she smiled, “to get you an appointment with the doctor.

That’s enough for today.  There are many other comma guidelines.  I would strongly recommend the grammar girl books if you want to learn more.


2 thoughts on “Comma on over…

  1. Golda says:

    Presenting the information in a simple, easy to understand way is what you accomplished. Thanks for the info on commas.


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