Nine Comma Pitfalls to Avoid

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As an editor, the most common punctuation issues I see are with comma usage. Writers can avoid many comma pitfalls by mastering the conventions below.

Nine Comma Pitfalls to Avoid. Comma splices, subordinate clauses, dependent clauses, nonrestrictive clauses, comma usage

1. A comma is placed before a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) that connects two independent clauses (complete sentences).

  • Incorrect: Suzanne wants to attend the writing seminar and Nancy wants to go shopping.
  • Correct: Suzanne wants to attend the writing seminar, and Nancy wants to go shopping.

2. Comma splice—a comma isn’t strong enough to connect two independent clauses.

  • Incorrect: Nicholas rode his bike to the park, Jordan took the bus to the library.
  • Correct: Nicholas rode his bike to the park, and Jordan took the bus to the library.
  • Correct: Nicholas rode his bike to the park. Jordan took the bus to the library.

3. Introductory words, phrases, and clauses are followed by a comma.

  • Incorrect: Before leaving for her trip Patti will have her car serviced.
  • Correct: Before leaving for her trip, Patti will have her car serviced.

4. Nonessential information (also referred to as a nonrestrictive clause or parenthetical element is set off with commas.

A nonrestrictive clause adds extra detail and can be removed from a sentence without changing the meaning or losing the identifying/distinguishing fact.

  • Incorrect: Mary Brown who is an avid reader has worked at the local bookstore for fifteen years.
  • Correct: Mary Brown, who is an avid reader, has worked at the local bookstore for fifteen years.

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4 comments

Printed out and on my wall, Kelly!! I know I’m guilty of a lot of this. Pesky commas – hate ’em!

Amor Libris (Kelly Hartigan)

I’m glad you found this helpful enough to print and hang on your wall, Siobhan. Yes, those commas can be pesky!

[…] use them. If you aren’t sick of hearing about commas after reading this article, you can read Nine Comma Pitfalls to Avoid Ironically, you’ll have to hear about the dreaded comma splice again—albeit […]

I’m saving this chart. I like having rules in one place for easy access.
Thanks, Susanne

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