Punctuation Part Two: Pauses – Use of Commas

punct2After the period, the use of commas is possibly the most used punctuation mark of all. If the period is a full stop, the comma is a pause.  The presence of a comma can sometimes change rather dramatically the meaning of a sentence. A misplaced comma can make a sentence mean the exact opposite of what the writer intended. Let’s look at the most common uses of the comma in creative writing.

  • Separation of items in a series.

Use commas to separate three or more words, phrases or clauses in a series. It is up to the writer to decide whether to use the “Oxford comma” before the final “and” or “or” in the list – whatever you do,  be consistent.

Example (words): I went to the drugstore and bought bandages, scissors, antiseptics, and chocolate.

Example (phrases): The candidate promised to lower taxes, protect the environment, reduce crime, and end unemployment.

Example (clauses): The prosecutor argued that the defendant, who was at the scene of the crime, who had a strong revenge motive, and who had access to the murder weapon, was guilty of homicide.

  • Surrounding nonessential elements of a sentence.

Use commas to offset clauses, phrases, and words that are not essential to the meaning of the sentence. Use one comma before to indicate the beginning of the pause and one at the end to indicate the end of the pause.

Example: The house I grew up in, a green bungalow with red shutters, has been repainted. [Note that only non-essential elements are offset by commas.  An essential element is a word or phrase that if removed, changes the meaning of the sentence.]

  • Before a coordinating conjunction.

Use commas to separate independent clauses when they are joined by any of these seven coordinating conjunctions: and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet.

Example: I love peach pie, but I don’t like eating peaches.

  •  After an introductory phrase or word.

Use a comma after common starter words for introductory clauses that include after, although, as, because, if, since, when, while.

Example: After the dance, we went to eat at Arby’s.

  • Also, common introductory words that should be followed by a comma include yes, however, well.

Example: Yes, I will go to the dance with you.

  • Use commas wherever necessary to prevent possible confusion or misreading.

Read your work aloud as it is written, and then read it aloud as you intend it to sound. If it is different, add or subtract commas where it helps to improve the pauses you want.


What do you think? Was this helpful for your writing? Leave comments below.

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