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A guide to using the humble comma.​

I know we should never give up but I admit defeat.

I’ve been sitting for some time now trying to think of how to make commas sexy.

I’ve been channelling my inner Justin Timberlake but I just can’t do it. When he said he was bringing sexy back he wasn’t talking about commas, was he?

Commas are not sexy. There, I’ve said it.

But they are important. And I promised that I would write about them and how to use them properly so here I am. Making a rod for my own back and all that.

First of all I would like to say that I am going to be brief. In Eats, Shoots & Leaves, my reference guide for grammar, Lynne Truss devotes an entire 34-page chapter to the comma. I’ve got one post.

Using commas in lists

Is it “red, white and blue” or “red, white, and blue”? The answer is both are correct. The comma after the “and” is called the Oxford comma. Sometimes it helps: “Little Miss Muffet likes curds and whey, and Haribo”. Using it, or not using it, is entirely down to you. A comma is always fine to use in a list if it can be replaced by the word “and” or the word “or”.

Using commas in lists (part 2)

Adjectives. You might describe your friend as a “tall, bearded man”. That’s fine. He’s both tall and bearded. But there is no comma in “endangered white rhino” because it’s the WHITE rhino that is endangered.

Commas preceding quotes

As in “Andrew said, ‘I hope this article isn’t boring you to death.’” This is a matter of style. Many people prefer to use the colon.

Commas in pairs

As in “Andrew, who talks about grammar way too much, is actually a really nice chap when you meet him.” The test here is that you should be able to remove the part with the commas around it, leaving the sentence still readable.

So, don’t put the commas in if taking out the words inside them changes the meaning. Thus ‘The Manchester City fans who invaded the pitch ended up in trouble.’ If you were to say ‘The Manchester City fans, who invaded the pitch, ended up in trouble’ that would mean that all the MCFC fans ended up in trouble.

– Have you, ever, wondered where to put a comma in a sentence?

– Do you ever call speech marks “inverted commas”?

Are there other grammar or punctuation issues you struggle with?

If you’re on LinkedIn, connect with me using the button on the right. If you’d like to read all my LinkedIn posts about grammar, follow the hashtag #andrewonwriting by clicking this link here and selecting “follow”


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