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One Comma Rule (out of zillions)

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

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glorybee
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One Comma Rule (out of zillions)

Postby glorybee » Sat Jul 23, 2016 9:40 am

I've rarely used this forum to give grammar lessons, for several reasons:

1. The purpose here is to focus more on the art of writing and familiarity with writing terms, rather than grammar, and

2. I have very little formal training in grammar, and have been known to get it wrong, and

3. I don’t love teaching grammar

However, for the time being, I’m all out of non-grammar, writing-related topics, so I thought I’d tackle a few things here that come up frequently when I’m editing. With that in mind, here’s the rule that is probably violated more often than any other in my editing projects:

Use a comma to set off an introductory phrase.

So you’re probably asking: What’s an introductory phrase? Well, just as it sounds, it’s a word or group of words that introduces the main body of the sentence. It can’t stand on its own, because it doesn’t have both a subject and a verb. Here are a few examples of the types of words and phrases that can introduce a sentence; mentally finish the sentences, and you’ll see that a pause naturally occurs at the end of the phrase. However, none of these are complete sentences—they need whatever comes afterward to make them complete. And they really need that comma.

Whenever I look at my granddaughter
Just as Jan was falling asleep
Furthermore
If you’re going to wear flip-flops
To keep up with his neighbors
Hoping desperately that she was wrong


Let’s try a little exercise—I’ve got some sentences below (from my previous Writing Challenge entries) that are missing their commas. You decide where the comma should go. I’ll put the answers to this exercise at the end of the lesson.

Where does the comma go?

1. When the bus starts up again the woman begins talking.
2. Many miles away and many hours later a young soldier pried open a crate.
3. In their new city she finds only one mention of her great-grandmother.
4. Over the next several days I opened them one at a time.
5. Pulling a camp chair toward the fire pit I thought to keep warm by the remnants of last night’s fire.

But of course, grammar is never simple, especially when it comes to commas. If an introductory phrase is very short, then the comma isn’t necessary. Take a look at the following examples:

In time you will learn to use commas correctly. (No comma is necessary after ‘time.’)
Because of Jesus we are all free. (No comma is necessary after ‘Jesus.’)

And this is where it gets tricky. In those two previous sentences, my fingers are just itching to add a comma, because commas are my best friends. Others prefer the sentences without them. That’s because, more than any other punctuation mark, commas have rules that are sometimes a little bit squishy.

My rule of thumb—better to have too many commas and have to take out a few than to have too few. In my opinion, under-punctuation marks your writing as immature.

Answers for the sentences above: Put the commas after the following words.

1. again
2. later
3. city
4. days
5. pit

Do you have questions about commas or about introductory clauses? I’d love to answer them. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll ask someone who does.

Ideas for further classes? I’d love those, too.
Jan Ackerson -- Follow me, friend me, give me a wave!
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Re: One Comma Rule (out of zillions)

Postby yvonblake » Sat Jul 23, 2016 12:48 pm

So in these two sentences -

In time you will learn to use commas correctly. (No comma is necessary after ‘time.’)
Because of Jesus we are all free. (No comma is necessary after ‘Jesus.’)

Is it incorrect to put a comma after "time" and "Jesus," or just optional? Why would you put one after "furthermore," being just one word?

You're right. It is confusing. (and I thought I had a fairly good handle on commas)

Vonnie

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Re: One Comma Rule (out of zillions)

Postby glorybee » Sat Jul 23, 2016 12:58 pm

yvonblake wrote:So in these two sentences -

In time you will learn to use commas correctly. (No comma is necessary after ‘time.’)
Because of Jesus we are all free. (No comma is necessary after ‘Jesus.’)

Is it incorrect to put a comma after "time" and "Jesus," or just optional? Why would you put one after "furthermore," being just one word?

You're right. It is confusing. (and I thought I had a fairly good handle on commas)

Vonnie


The commas after 'time' and 'Jesus' in the examples I gave are optional. If you used them, you wouldn't be wrong.

Furthermore is one of the longer conjunctions (like however, therefore, consequently, and many others), and those are typically followed by commas. The short ones (which can be remembered by the acronym FANBOYS) should NOT be followed by commas:

for
and
nor
but
or
yet
so
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Re: One Comma Rule (out of zillions)

Postby yvonblake » Sat Jul 23, 2016 3:06 pm

Thanks!

I had learned the "no comma after a conjunction rule," but I had never heard of FANBOYS until last week at the FW Gathering. It's a good way to remember that.

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Re: One Comma Rule (out of zillions)

Postby oursilverstrands » Mon Jul 25, 2016 7:16 pm

Thanks, Jan, for the "Yet." I always thought it needed a comma, especially at the beginning or at the end of a sentence. He had not heard of it, yet.

Lillian
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Re: One Comma Rule (out of zillions)

Postby glorybee » Mon Jul 25, 2016 9:49 pm

lish1936 wrote:Thanks, Jan, for the "Yet." I always thought it needed a comma, especially at the beginning or at the end of a sentence. He had not heard of it, yet.

Lillian


Nope, not in either of those places. It might help to imagine what it would look like if the sentence was continued:

He had not heard of it yet, so the invention of the telephone intrigued him.

The telephone had been around for years, yet he had not heard of it.

Yet he was a visionary, and he quickly accepted the newfangled invention.

These sentences use two different meanings of the word 'yet'--I couldn't quite think of a way to use 'yet' in your original sense at the beginning of a sentence. But I hope this helps!
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