The Almighty Comma

“,” What is up with this little piece of punctuation?  It’s not real big! It’s actually quite small. But it gives people problems all over the place.  It is one of the most over/under used pieces of punctuations in the books.  Either a person over uses or under uses, but not both, and no one knows why. (I heard that on the radio) I just got through reading a nice little blog at Daily Writing Tips.  It was about using the comma in the right way to save your writing.

Can you figure out what’s wrong with these sentences?  And “YES!”, there is something wrong with every one. Take a good hard look at each one, and you will be able to come up with what is wrong. Here is your chance:

  1. If you think that you can get the drop on me you are highly mistaken.
  2. Sara and Bella are going to the store, then go get their nails done.
  3. It is a constant battle in keeping the ocean from taking the sand, and wherever possible, building up the dunes as we can.
  4. I think movies, like Gone with the Wind, are a great example of cinematography and sparks discussions about our history.
  5. I have to get this information to Betty at her home, by noon, or she will look stupid at the meeting this afternoon.

The Answers:

  1. If you think that you can get the drop on me, you are highly mistaken.
    1. As you read the sentence you know that something is wrong.  Read it again, slowly this time, and you will find that there are two parts to this sentence.
    2. Once part is a partial sentence and a the main concept.
    3. Does the partial adds meaning to the sentence? If yes, then you need to set it off with a comma.  If no, then you add an end punctuation and let it stand on it’s own.
  2. Sara and Bella are going to the store then go get their nails done.
    1. As you read this sentence, you see that you have two verbs and two subjects only on one side of the connector (then).
    2. Since the subject of the second part of the sentence is in the first part there is no comma needed.
  3. It is a constant battle in keeping the ocean from taking the sand and, wherever possible, building up the dunes as we can.
    1. It looks like they are trying to intend a parenthetical phase, and it didn’t come across right.
    2. The comma is also  saying that there are two complete sentences here which is not true.
    3. The sentence says the parenthetical phase is “and wherever possible”, but it really is “wherever possible”.
    4. The test for a parenthetical phrase is that you temporarily take one word out at a time and see if the sentence still makes sense until you have tested every which way and then you will know which way to go.
    5. Since “and” is not part of the Parenthetical phrase, the comma comes after and another one comes behind the phrase to set it apart from the sentence.
  4. I think movies like Gone with the Wind are a great example of cinematography and sparks discussions  about our history.
    1. The commas setting “like Gone with the Wind” tell us that the sentence can do without it.  Can it?  NO!
    2. It is referring to a type/category of films and is therefore essential to the sentence
    3. It needs no commas because it needs to be an active part of the sentence.
  5. I have to get this information to Betty at her home by noon, or she will look stupid at the meeting this afternoon. 
    1. The using of commas in the listing of the first three items is not necessary and makes things messy.
    2. The use of the verbs “to”, “at”, and “by” move the sentence along.
    3. Because there are two complete sentences with an or, you place a comma before the or and that is all.