Comma tally voo?

In just a few short years, I'll be starring in "Westworld."

Obviously, I can’t tackle the entire subject of comma usage in one Conan, so we’ll take it a bit at a time.  I swore I’d never do this to you, but I can’t think of any other way to get my point across. I’m going to have to get a little technical this time.  Nothing to be done but suck it up and dive right in.

What does a comma represent in speech? Yes, you, in the front row with the bow tie? Right…a pause. Unfortunately, most people don’t talk no more betterer than they write. Most writers toss commas into their writing like rednecks toss Uncle Ben’s at a trailer park wedding. This will not do!

Comma rule number one: Joining independent clauses and verb phrases with a coordinating conjunction. Hey, wake up! This is important!

An independent clause is a group of words that contains a subject and verb and expresses a complete thought. This is commonly called a sentence.

Example: Eddie wore a pair of white pumps.

A verb phrase is a group of related words that does not include a subject.

Example: sported a rhinestone necklace.

A verb phrase usually follows an independent clause and “borrows” the clause’s subject, like so:

Eddie wore a pair of white pumps and sported a rhinestone necklace.

Here’s the common mistake: Most writers drop a comma in between “pumps” and “and.” WRONG! If whatever follows a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, yet, so, etc.) has no subject, do not use a comma before the conjunction. Let it be written. Let it be done.

Now: if you turned the verb phrase into an independent clause by adding a subject, THEN you separate with a comma, like so:

Eddie wore a pair of white pumps, and he sported a rhinestone necklace.

Think of it like this: your verb phrase depends on the independent clause for life support (i.e., its subject). The comma cuts off the phrase from that life support, and it dies a writhing, painful death.

Conversely, when you’ve got two independent clauses, each having its very own subject and verb, imagine yourself as the bartender in a biker bar — the conjunction, if you will. Now imagine your independent clauses as two very large, very angry bikers, one a Hell’s Angel, the other a Son of Silence. Now, the comma is the tire iron you keep stowed behind the bar. You’ve got to insert that comma between the first independent clause (the Hell’s Angel) and the conjunction (you), because that little comma is the only thing that stands between you and a full-tilt-boogie tavern brawl.

Can you see it? Remember it as if your life depended on it, because someday, it just might. Metaphorically speaking, that is.



  1. Great example sentences though I think I now need to go back and do a lot of rewriting.

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