Polishing Your Prose, Part 8: The Do and Don't of a Comma

8.29.2012

This month I'm bringing you another short but very important grammar lesson concerning commas. Depending on whom you ask, commas are either used too much or not enough. I've seen authors take out commas because they claim there are too many, and I've seen authors add commas because they think there aren't enough. 99% of the time they're wrong.

So in this month's Polishing Your Prose post, I'm going to give you one DO and one DON'T of commas. 

The Do: DO Use Direct Address Commas

When I first started work as an editor four years ago, I didn't know about direct address commas. In my very first book, I actually took out all the direct address commas...and then had to add them back in later once I realized my mistake. So learn now and don't be like me.

A direct address comma is used before a direct address, obviously. It's what you use when you're talking to someone or, directly addressing them. 

Here's an example: 
Hello, Alice! Have you bought any more toilet paper lately? There's a sale at Target on Charmin. 

Okay, that was a weird example. It's just the first thing I thought of. I don't know. 
Anyway... did you notice the direct address comma? It's the one right before Alice.

The direct address comma is seen in dialogue, and when you're writing, you need to make sure and add a comma before and after the name if it applies. Here's an example of what that would look like:

When I ask you to do something, Jordan, I expect an answer immediately.
Or, what about in a letter?
Hello, Mom! How are you? 

Learning how to use a direct address comma correctly will help you polish your prose and be a rung above the rest of the lame grammar fools you know.

The Don't: DON'T Create a Comma Splice 

A comma splice is a basic and common mistake that just means you "spliced" together two complete sentences with a comma. This can be easily fixed by simply replacing a comma for a period, yet it's one of the most annoying comma mistakes I come across. 

The rules of a period are taught pretty much before everything else in, I don't know...first grade? Seriously, people. This is not hard.

A period ends a sentence. Easy enough. So I have to wonder why I see things like this: 

I might cry if I don't get more ice cream, please get me another bowl.

Oh no you didn't. 

What we have here are two complete sentences. 
1: I might cry if I don't get more ice cream. 
2: Please get me another bowl.

A comma should NEVER be used to combine two sentences. If you do, you've just committed a grievous error called a comma splice. Then I cry. So, how do you know if you should use a comma or a period? Ask yourself if you are looking at one complete sentence or two. If it's two, use a period to end the sentence and give yourself a pat on the back. (You could also use a semi-colon, but I don't really want to go into that right now.)

And that's it for now! I've given you a very short overview of direct address commas and comma splices. If you have any questions about either, or just about commas in general, leave a comment and I'll be sure to answer it! *And if you have a suggestion/request for a Polishing Your Prose post, let me know! I have 4 more posts to write until the end of the year!

Now go spread the grammar love, everyone! 

・ DESIGNED BY ECLAIR DESIGNS