Commas. I’ve read the grammar books. I’ve prepared cheat sheets for using them correctly, and I’ve presumed to correct other people on where the pesky things get placed. But the more I write the less I think I’ve got the comma nailed.
Sometimes I wonder if anyone really knows when a comma is necessary and when it’s optional, and sometimes I think real sentences simply resist belonging to any of the well-defined categories.
So here’s the plan for getting us to help each other with the comma thing. I’ll start off by giving some examples I feel confident about, and I want you to add to the list.
Eler, the brother of the liege of Nersal, loves poetry too much to be a proper Nersallian.
The appositive is something that could substitute for a name. In this case, “the brother of the liege of Nersal” could be used instead of Eler. Used as an appositive, it provides a descriptive element. Appositives should be set off with commas.
#2 before a conjunction
She had hardly been able to draw breath when she saw Vic – of all people! – strike Amel, but by the time she recovered from the shock she had no time to do anything but get out.
Place a comma before a conjunction. The most common conjunctions are ‘and’, ‘or’ and ‘but’. Personally, I leave this comma out in the case of very short sentences.
She saw Vic strike Amel but couldn’t stop him.
Your turn! Add a type of comma you are confident about. Or ask a question about one you aren’t.
And remember to e-mail your questions, suggestions or offers to guest feature on The Clarion Writer’s Craft to firstname.lastname@example.org. Use the word ‘Clarion’ in the subject line.