By: Penny, EzineArticles Managing Editor
Putting the Comma in Its Place
The comma is one of the most vexing punctuation marks in the English language. Writers either put it where it doesn’t belong or leave it out where it’s needed.
Take the title of this book: “Eats, Shoots and Leaves,” by Lynne Truss (subtitled “The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation,” which isn’t nearly as frightening as it sounds).
The title refers to a sentence describing the dining habits of pandas. The correct version is “The panda eats shoots and leaves.” The errant comma makes it sound as if gun-slinging pandas are walking out of the world’s restaurants without paying the bill.
Two Rules for Comma Use
If you’re less than secure about where to put commas in your sentences, or if you forgot or never learned how to use them back in grade school, here are two of the rules that cover situations we see often when reviewing articles for EzineArticles:
- When listing a series of adjectives or nouns, use commas to separate the individual elements.
This sounds more confusing than it really is. Here are two possible uses:
- “I thought ‘Paranormal Activity’ was funny, scary and exciting.”
- “I thought ‘Paranormal Activity’ was funny, scary, and exciting.”
Both sentences say the same thing. However, the first version, which eliminates the comma before the word “and,” is the preferred version, according to the Associated Press style book. The AP stylebook is the accepted rulebook for most newspapers and magazines and is designed to make reading print as easy as possible.
- To separate adjectives of equal rank.
Many people think that if you have two adjectives side by side in a sentence, you always have to separate them with a comma. Apply this rule only when both adjectives describe, or modify, the same noun. If the first adjective modifies the second adjective instead of the noun, then you need the comma.
An example using an actual EzineArticles entry in our database: “Good dental clinics are a boon to everyone.”
Here, “good” modifies “dental” by distinguishing good dental clinics from bad dental clinics. No comma needed.
Had the sentence been “Good, affordable clinics are a boon to everyone,” you should see that both “good” and “affordable” modify “clinics.” The comma is necessary for clarity.
The “and” trick: Try substituting “and” for the comma. If that changes the sentence meaning, you don’t need the comma. If it still makes sense, you need the comma. Try it on the first example sentence above to see why you really don’t need a second comma.
We’ll post more tips and tricks for correct comma use (and semi-colons, colons, brackets and more) in future blog posts. Got a tough punctuation question? Add it to the comments section and we’ll answer it as soon as we can.