Where does it belong?
I learned English as an adult and the comma became my worst nightmare when I started writing.
Where it's needed and don't need it?
I read a book recently and found a lot of sentences where the comma was used incorrectly. I'm no expert, and I still rely on editors to correct my mistakes, but this book gave me the impression that it had never seen a good editor.
I rely on the editors to catch my mistakes, but I really should use my cheat-sheet more often. I bet my editor would have fewer headaches.
Here is my cheat-sheet:
Use a comma before any coordinating conjunction
"I walked by the lake, and I saw a fox."
"I walked by the lake" and "I saw a fox" are both independent clauses, therefore, we need a comma.
However, if I eliminate the second "I" the second clause would lack a subject, making it not a clause at all. In that case, it would no longer need a comma:
"I walked by the lake and saw a fox."
Use a comma after a dependent clause that starts a sentence.
"When I walked by the lake, I saw a fox."
I had trouble to grasp this rule: "Commas always follow these clauses at the start of a sentence. If a dependent clause ends the sentence, however, it no longer requires a comma. Only use a comma to separate a dependent clause at the end of a sentence for added emphasis, usually when negation occurs."
Use commas to offset appositives from the rest of the sentence.
Appositives act as synonyms for a juxtaposed word or phrase.
"While walking, I saw a fox, a kind of mammal." "A kind of mammal" is the appositive, which gives more information about "a fox."
If the appositive occurs in the middle of the sentence, both sides of the phrase need a comma. As in, "A fox, a kind of mammal, attacked me."
Now this scared me until I understood the logic in it. "As long as the phrase somehow gives more information about its predecessor, you usually need a comma."
"A fox, the kind of mammal I saw when I went walking, attacked me."
There's one exception to this rule. Don't offset a phrase that gives necessary information to the sentence. Usually, commas surround a non-essential clause or phrase.
"The fox that attacked me scared my friend" doesn't require any commas. Even though the phrase "that attacked me" describes "the fox," it provides essential information to the sentence. Otherwise, no one would know why the fox scared your friend. Clauses that begin with "that" are usually essential to the sentence and do not require commas.
Use commas to separate items in a series.
"I saw a fox, a mammal, and a liquor store when I went running."
That last comma, known as the serial comma, Oxford comma, or Harvard comma, causes serious controversy. Although many consider it unnecessary, others, including Business Insider, insist on its use to reduce ambiguity.
Use a comma after introductory adverbs.
"Finally, I went running."
"Surprisingly, I saw a fox when I went running."
Use a comma when attributing quotes.
The runner said, "I saw a fox."
"I saw a fox," said the runner.
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