Today is Grammar Tuesday!
From now on, every Tuesday I’ll be posting a helpful grammar tip. Today I’d like to discuss 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. Most of the time, they’re wrong on both counts.
There are a lot of rules about commas and much disagreement depending on what style guide you use. But the following two rules are correct throughout all styles and preference: I call them the DO and DON’T of a comma.
The Do: DO Use Direct Address Commas
A direct address comma is used before a direct address. It’s what you use when you’re talking to someone or directly addressing them.
Here’s an example:
Hello, Alice! Do you want to come to Target with me later? There’s a sale on shoes.
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, Sally, I expect an answer immediately.
Or, what about in a letter or email?
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 population. It will also help you avoid potentially dangerous confusion, as in the following humorous example:
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.
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!