(Insert sigh HERE)
I'm a stickler for grammar. It probably stems from my days as a high school English teacher. As a writer, my eyes are just naturally drawn to grammatical mistakes. Interestingly, I'm not nearly as sharp when it comes to seeing errors in my own writing (a topic I want to blog about in the near future).
So let's tackle the dreaded comma, shall we? Why? Because the poor comma is being abused by a lot of writers and even editors. Using "gut instinct" or putting in a comma when it "feels right" won't cut it. Here are three common comma issues. We'll start with easy and work our way to the most difficult one.
1) Use a comma after an introductory clause.
After we went shopping, we went to eat lunch.
I don't usually see this one abused, as there's a natural pause there. So gut instinct doesn't get this one wrong. Easy as pie.
2) Use a comma between two INDEPENDENT clauses joined by a conjunction (and, but, for, so, or, yet, nor)
The car broke down, and I didn't have a cell phone.
I will sometimes see problems when the writer left off the conjunction and used a comma by itself to join the two independent clauses. Most writers got this!
3) Do NOT use commas to set off essential clauses.
The apples that fell out of the tree are delicious.
Okay. Now this is where I see a lot of writers mess this one up. I know several of you are just dying to put a comma before that and one after tree. But you should resist the power of the comma in this example.
...that fell out of the tree...is a relative clause, followed by the noun apples. Any clause that begins with that and follows an ambiguous noun is always essential. Remember, an essential clause is also a relative clause. A relative clause's job is to simply help limit a broad, ambiguous noun.
...that fell out of the tree...is telling you which apples are delicious, since the noun apples is so general, it could be the apples in the basket, or the ones at the store, etc. Comprende?
Here's another example:
The guy wearing jeans was underdressed.
Again, it's easy to feel the itch to put commas around ...wearing jeans...
But you would be wrong. Which guy? Oh. That guy in shorts? In a t-shirt? No. The guy who wore jeans! So it's an essential clause. It's defining the very broad noun guy.
How about this one?
My daughter, wearing jeans, was underdressed.
Ah, but I used commas here. Why? Because ...wearing jeans...in this case is NON-ESSENTIAL. How so? Well, my noun here is very specific. It's MY daughter. Proper nouns are also the most common specific nouns. Proper nouns, or very specific nouns, don't need defining.
Mr. Wilson, wearing jeans, was underdressed.
It's non-essential, thus you need commas here. The proper noun Mr. Wilson is very specific.
Let's make things even more complicated. Hopefully my explanation will help.
*If the clause becomes more of an accessory (non-essential), then you will set them off with commas. These "decorative clauses" just add a bit of information.
My new house, which was purchased last week, cost me a fortune.
Mr. Wilson, who paid for dinner, was very nice.
I went to the store yesterday, I think, and bought some apples.
The above three examples have commas setting off the clauses because the clauses are non-essential. They are decorative and not defining.
I hope that helps! There's a ton of more comma rules out there, but let's start with baby steps.
* * * * *Carol Kilgore, a great blogger-buddy of mine over at Under the Tikki Hut, wants everyone to know that her novel, SECRETS OF HONOR, is now available!
By the end of a long evening working as a special set of eyes for the presidential security detail, all Kat Marengo wants is to kick off her shoes and stash two not-really-stolen rings in a secure spot. Plus, maybe sleep with Dave Krizak. No, make that definitely sleep with Dave Krizak. The next morning, she wishes her new top priorities were so simple.
As an operative for a covert agency buried in the depths of the Department of Homeland Security, Kat is asked to participate in a matter of life or death—locate a kidnapped girl believed to be held in Corpus Christi, Texas. Since the person doing the asking is the wife of the president and the girl is the daughter of the first lady’s dearest friend, it’s hard to say no.
Kat and Dave quickly learn the real stakes are higher than they or the first lady believed and will require more than any of them bargained for.
The kicker? They have twenty-four hours to find the girl—or the matter of life or death will become more than a possibility.
Carol sees mystery and subterfuge everywhere. And she’s a sucker for a good love story—especially ones with humor and mystery. Crime Fiction with a Kiss gives her the latitude to mix and match throughout the broad mystery and romance genres. Having flexibility makes her heart happy.
You can connect with Carol and her books here:
Under the Tiki Hut blog: http://www.underthetikihut.blogspot.com
Website with Monthly Contest: http://www.carolkilgore.net