Grammar Basics – Using the Comma with quoted or italicized titles and expressions

When you have a title or expression within your prose, it is essential to set them off from the surrounding text with quotation marks or italics. These unique titles and phrases are usually treated like noun forms, in which case the comma is used or omitted as they would be with any other noun.

For Example:

Her favorite story in King’s Different Seasons is “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.”

She recites Shakespeare’s “To Be or Not to Be,” from Hamlet, quite often.

Of her many favorites, “Where are for art thou?” from Romeo and Juliet, is the one she knows best.

Using commas within this context is often done incorrectly. ALWAYS check your style guide when using these examples.

Until next time, when we will wrap up these lessons on comma usage,

~Mustang Patty~

Grammar Basics – Comma usage with Quotations and Questions

Comma use with quotes or questions is one of the most common errors I find in the works of other writers. I think it’s because both of these clauses are tricky to write.

Usually, a quotation or question is an independent clause. It is used in dialogue and introduced with said, replied, asked, wrote, etc.

Proper grammar and syntax of the sentence dictate that the quoted material uses a comma to separate it from the rest of the text.

For Example:

It was Thoreau who wrote, “One generation abandons the enterprises of another like stranded vessels.”

He replied, “I’m not sure I understand what you’re referring to.”

The rules for questions are the same, but the clause is phrased as a question with the use of speech tags.

For Example:

Was it Stephen King who said that “adverbs are not your friend?”

Comma usage within the context of quotations is one of the easiest things to learn. Just remember that ALL punctuation goes on the inside of the quotation marks, AND when writing dialogue, the end of the line said by one party is a comma.

For Example:

“I don’t think I’ll be entering the contest,” said Mary.

And there you have it – once you break it down into chewable pieces, it is really easy to understand.

Next, we will look at commas with quoted or italicized titles and expressions.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

Grammar Basics – Comma usage with addresses

As we work our way through the different uses for the comma, it is becoming increasingly clear to me why it feels as though no one can truly get a handle on all of the rules.

However, I’ve also noticed that the comma could be considered the main traffic cop on the road to good writing. I’ve always thought that it is proper spelling and punctuation that makes our prose more available to the reader. How else would we then know the meaning behind our sentences?

When you are presenting an address within a document—rather than writing it out for mailing a letter—it is customary to use commas to set off the individual elements within a text.

For example:

My mailing address is 4040 Penticton Circle NE, Salem, OR 97305.

Queries can be sent to the author at 123 Main Street., Apt 10, Montreal, QC H3Z 2YZ.

Additionally, when you are referring to place-names as an adjective, the elements of the description are also set off with commas.

For Example:

University of Washington, Puyallup, has an enrollment of . . .

We only have a few more posts regarding comma usage, and then we will dive into an element of storytelling,

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

Grammar Basics – Commas with Dates

Before I start this blog entry, I want to say something about consistency. While it is important in many things in your life, consistency in your writing goes a long way. Regardless if you aren’t sure about how to punctuate something, make sure you punctuate it the same throughout the piece you’re working on at the time. Sure – you’ll still be wrong, but the work doesn’t look nearly as sloppy.

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest let’s talk comma usage when you’re using dates in your writing.

When you’re writing the month-day-year style, commas must be used to set off the year—this is traditional.

{October 29, 1958}

Further, when you are stating the day of the week, it is also separated from the month and day by a comma.

{Tuesday, November 3}

Conversely, commas are usually unnecessary between the name for the day and the ordinal in references where the month is not expressed. Commas are also unnecessary where month and year only are given, or where a named day (such as a holiday) is provided with a year.

{Christmas Day 2020}

When you are using a date as an adjective, as when the date is describing a noun, the rules are different.

In this case, when using the month-year or month-day date, there is no hyphen or comma needed:

{October 31 festivities}               {December 2014 financial statement}

However, if a full month-day-year date is used as the description, a comma is sometimes considered necessary both before and after the year:

{the November 8, 2016, elections}

This particular construction is awkward and not used very often. Usually, you would see it this way:

{commencement ceremonies on May 27, 2016}.

A few more examples:

The play took place on December 2, 2003, at the Heritage High School Auditorium in Vancouver, Washington.

Her hearing was scheduled for Friday, June 3, 2018.

Monday, July 4, was a holiday; Tuesday the fifth was not.

Next time, we will look at comma usage with addresses.  I hope you’re having a good week and getting lots of writing done,

Until then,

~Mustang Patty~

 

Grammar Basics – Commas with Introductory Words and Phrases

Another day, and another kind of comma to discuss. As you may be aware of by now, there are so many ways to use a comma in writing, that it’s no wonder people get confused.

And while you might be wondering why bother with learning all this, I think it is vitally important to every writers’ work to understand basic grammar, and especially the comma.

Today, we’ll talk the comma that sets apart the introduction of a sentence from the rest.

As with all the rules and regulations of the comma, it isn’t cut and dry. One cannot say a comma follows ALL introductory phrases or words.As with all the rules and regulations of the comma, it isn’t cut and dry. One cannot say a comma follows ALL introductory phrases or words. It seems that whether or not you use a comma is dependent on the type of expression, its relationship to the rest of the sentence, and its length. You can’t say it because it isn’t true. Whether or not you use a comma is dependent on the type of phrase, its relationship to the rest of the sentence, and its length.

Wow – that was quite a mouthful. As it turns out, though it sounds complicated, once you familiarize yourself with how things work, you will find yourself naturally building this routine into your process.

If a sentence begins with yes, no, OK, well, and the like, using the comma is appropriate. This is also true for oh and ah.

Now that you’re aware of this convention, it is even more critical than ever to read your work out loud before you show it to anyone else.

As some of you know, I have the honor of being a Judge of the weekly contests of Reedsy.com*. One of the most common things I see from these mostly novice writers is some glaring errors that a basic edit would take care of. Which leaves me to wonder, doesn’t everyone do some type of edit before they post their work where the entire internet has access?

Here are a few suggestions from my writing process.

Before I release the majority of my work to the world-wide-web or enter it into a contest, I always READ the piece OUT LOUD. You’ll be amazed at the errors you will find as you read. You will be able to identify missing and overused words. It is also possible to catch grammatical mistakes – such as missing or extra commas if you read with emphasis on punctuation.

Next, at a minimum, use some form of spell-check. While it is true that spell check only looks for misspelled words, and not incorrect word choices, it helps in eliminating basic mistakes.

Grammarly has a free version. Using the free program forces you to learn the basics because it is not foolproof, but if you struggle with sentence structure and word choice, this is a good step for you to incorporate into your editing routine.

Next time, we’ll finish up this short series on the comma. I think we’ve covered the basics, but we will come back to this punctuation mark repeatedly.

Until then,

~Mustang Patty~

*If you would like to compete in the weekly contests, check out Reedsy.com. The site is a valuable resource for writers.

Grammar Basics – The Comma with Descriptive Phrases

Here we are with yet another lesson dealing with the comma. I think when you realize how many blog posts, articles, and Style Guides are dedicated to comma usage, you begin to understand why this little punctuation mark is such a bother.

Today, I want to talk about using commas with descriptive phrases.

Basically, there are two types of descriptive phrases – one is considered essential, and the other is non-essential. The difference between these two phrases comes down to the emphasis of what is being described, the noun serving as the subject of the sentence.

When the phrase is essential to the meaning (and often the identity) of the noun it belongs to, a bracket of commas is NOT appropriate.

The reason for this is because without the descriptive phrase, the noun isn’t complete.

Conversely, when the descriptive phrase is non-essential and isn’t needed to identify the noun, then the phrase is set off with commas.

Here are some examples:

In the sentence,

      The man with the gray and black moustache is my husband.

      (The descriptive phrase, ‘with the gray and black moustache,’ is how the husband is identified – therefor it is essential information, and NO commas are used.)

In this sentence,

      My hubby, with the gray and black moustache, threw the ball for the dog.

      (In this instance, the descriptive phrase, ‘with the gray and black moustache,’ is NON-essential because it is already clear that the subject of the sentence is ‘my hubby’ – therefore it is non-essential information, and commas are required to set it apart from the rest of the sentence.)

Next time, we will cover Commas with Introductory Words and Phrases.

Until then,

~Mustang Patty~

The Oxford Comma Debate

The definition of the Oxford comma (also known as a serial comma—or even a Harvard comma apparently):

It’s the comma that follows the penultimate item in a list of three or more things. It is also a thing that many writers and grammarians love to debate, though I’m not sure why.

So, let’s take a look at the Oxford comma debate. While I fall with those who believe that using this highly debated comma – because it actually makes things easier to understand. (Remember – we want readers to understand what we write.)

So, as far as I can tell, the main argument against using the Oxford comma is that it’s somehow easier to not insert a comma at the end of a list of three or more items.

Let’s look at this example: 

We invited my parents, Herb and Liza.

To me, this makes sense if I invited two people named Herb and Liza, who both happen to be my parents. I included their names in the sentence for easy reference.

But if I actually invited four people, then this could be confusing, because I should’ve done one of the following:

Example #1 (with serial comma): We invited my parents, Herb, and Liza.

Example #2 (sans serial comma): We invited Herb, Liza and my parents.

Both sentences make some sense AND both are grammatically correct.

The confusion comes in when the reader realizes they do not know who Herb and Liza could be. And once your mind begins down that path – it becomes apparent that by not consistently using the Oxford comma, confusion arises for the reader by omitting a comma.

As a writer of flash fiction, I love streamlined language as much as the next person, but this sets up a problem for your reader.

And as a writer who wants to avoid being misunderstand, I’m going to use every tool in my Writer’s Tool Box – including the Oxford Comma.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

Grammar Basics – The Comma with Dependent Clauses

(Notice how in the graphic I’ve included with this post, one person is dragging the other – or is it one person trying to stay with the other – this is the dependent relationship I want to illustrate here.)

Well, here we are – back with another day filled with fun facts about the comma. (Okay, maybe it’s only me who thinks they’re fun facts.)

So, in my last post, we discussed the use of a comma when you’re joining an Independent Clause with another one, OR when you’re joining a Dependent Clause with the Independent Clause, also known as a compound sentence. We discussed how a Dependent Clause is one that doesn’t express a complete thought; it cannot stand alone, and it needs more information to make a statement.

In addition to the compound sentence scenario, you will also have introductory dependent clauses. I see this error in a lot of peoples’ writing. The introductory phrase does what it says – it introduces the sentence.

For example:

If you accept this scholarship, we will pay for all college expenses and fees.

~and~

Whether you agree with her or not, she is right.

In both of these sentences, you have the opening phrase followed by a comma. As illustrated in these two examples, you can see that a subordinating conjunction (if, because, or when) introduces the dependent clause, and the second part of the sentence is an independent clause.

Conversely, you have instances where a main, independent clause opens the sentence, and a dependent clause follows it. (Very similar to the compound sentence rules)

We will agree to the proposal if you accept our conditions.

~and~

Paul sighed when he heard the news.

There are several more discussions in the Chicago Manual of Style** about the use of commas with different kinds of predicates, appositives, etc. I’m not going to cover those – for a few reasons, I fear I would confuse you because just reading about them makes my head spin. And, obviously, I do not feel like I’m understand them well enough to give you any kind of explanation.

So, next time, we will take a look at the Great Oxford Comma Debate.

Until then,

~Mustang Patty~

**the Chicago Manual of Style is the most widely used style guide in writing. It is well worth the investment to include one in your library of reference books, OR subscribe to the online service.

Grammar Basics – The Comma in a Compound Sentence

Welcome back to my crash course in basic Grammar. Today’s blog is centered around the comma in a compound sentence.

First, let’s define what a compound sentence is.

According the Chicago Manual of Style, (the end-all authority,) a compound sentence joins clauses by using a coordinating conjunction. (Coordinating conjunctions include words such as and, but, or, so, and yet.)

The rule is:

IF you have two independent clauses joined with the coordinating conjunction, there IS a comma.

The easiest way I know how to explain an independent clause is that it can stand alone – it expresses a complete thought. (It is really a stand-alone sentence, but it is joined with another complete thought in one sentence.)

For instance: The Uber didn’t get there, so we took a taxi.

‘The Uber didn’t get there,’ is a complete sentence, and so is, ‘We took a taxi.’ They are joined by the coordinating conjunction, so.

Because the two joined clauses are both independent, you use a comma before the conjunction. Think of it as though neither of these clauses needs the other. Therefore, the comma separates them.

Conversely, IF you have an independent clause joined with a dependent clause, there is NOT a comma.

A dependent clause does NOT express a complete thought on its own. It needs the other part of the sentence – the independent clause to make it a complete sentence.

Because the two joined clauses NEED one another to express the thought, there is NOT a comma. (I think of it as a form of codependency.)

For instance: We will sign the proposal if you accept all of our demands.

‘We will sign the proposal,’ is an independent clause – it expresses a complete thought.

‘You accept all of our demands, is NOT a complete thought, therefore it DEPENDS on the first part of the sentence. They are joined by the coordinating junction, OR, and no comma is appropriate in this instance.

I use this rule on a daily basis. You do too. Some of us learned this a long time ago in high school English, while some of us still struggle with it. In my editing process, I read each sentence one at a time. I evaluate any sentences where there is a coordinating conjunctionand, but, or, so, and yet, and I look at both of the clauses.

Are they both independent? (Could they both stand alone?)

IF yes, then there IS a comma before the ‘and,’ ‘but,’ etc.

Is one of the clauses dependent? (Does it need the other part of the sentence to make sense?)

IF yes, then there IS NOT a comma before the coordinating conjunction.

Tomorrow, we will talk about a few other kinds of compound sentences – but I wanted to illustrate this one first. I think it is in this instance where folks have the most errors.

Until next time,

~Mustang Patty~

Grammar Basics

As we begin to talk about Grammar and all the ‘rules,’ I want to take a moment to make sure you understand that I KNOW this is not the most exciting thing about writing.

After all, the tough part is coming up with the idea. After that, you need to develop the characters and their arcs, along with the plot of your story.

Well, yes, all that is true.

However, most of us write, craving an audience for our work.

Ultimately, you want to know that what you wrote is appealing, right?

Grammar is the key to helping you have your work read. Oh, sure, you can post your writing anywhere you want – the Internet has made that incredibly easy. BUT – poor Grammar, lack of attention to spelling, and sloppiness give you AND more importantly, YOUR WRITING, a BAD REPUTATION.

Here’s the real kicker – IF you plan on submitting your work to an agent, a publication, a contest, or you simply want to self-publish, you can’t go wrong by putting your BEST foot forward. Proper Grammar and word usage go a long way in proving yourself as a writer.

Over the past ten years, I’ve joined several writing communities. There are some I’ve remained a part of, and somewhere I left after a few months. No, I’m not a complete snob or anything, but it is challenging to be a part of a group that isn’t serious about their writing. (At least for me.)

In one of the groups I belonged to for over three years, I would read and review at least fifty stories from other people. I would take the time to make constructive criticism regarding the plot, characters, and then I would do a modified line by line edit where I pointed out errors in grammar or spelling.

Several people told me they didn’t worry about ‘that stuff.’ After all, isn’t that what editors are for?

There are two answers to that question:

  • Editors are not going to correct your sentence syntax or paragraph structure – UNLESS you pay them as a Ghost Writer – EXTREMELY Expensive.
  • Editors will go through your MS with a fine-tooth comb and fix all of your grammatical and spelling errors – IF you pay them to do a Line by Line Edit – VERY Expensive.

I concluded that if I didn’t want to spend the little bit of money I make from the sales of my books on editing and other professional services, I needed to learn as much as possible about the mechanics of writing.

So, my friends, I’m going to talk about the dreaded comma and share one way I found to deal with the comma in a compound sentence.

We will also talk about other commas – like the controversial Oxford Comma.

We are going to take a look at using the ellipsis and the semi-colon.

We’re also going to talk about hyphens and capitalization.

I will share my list of the most misspelled words, along with difficult words AND homonyms that are one of my personal pet peeves.

Now, I know what I know, but I also know what I don’t know. So, I will give you the names of some great reference books to have on your shelves for when you are doing the most crucial step in writing:

THE EDIT

Until tomorrow,

~Mustang Patty~

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