Punctuation Series: 4 Ways to Edit Commas

punctuation series

Four Ways to Edit Commas

 1.  Commas used with adjectives.

If you can place the word “and” between two adjectives before a noun without changing the meaning, then you need a comma separating the adjectives.

Here is an example:

His narrow chiseled jaw showed off his handsome physique.

His narrow [and] chiseled jaw showed off his handsome physique.

His narrow, chiseled jaw showed off his handsome physique.

The two adjectives here act as separate modifiers for the noun “jaw,” and that’s why there is a comma between them.

However, if two adjectives before the noun are considered a unit, then do not use a comma.

Here is an example.

The author had written many famous award-winning articles.

Famous describes award-winning, and award-winning describes articles. Therefore, no comma is needed because the words work together and make sense.

2.  Commas with adverbs.

Generally, adverbs like howevertherefore, and indeed are set off by commas.

Examples:

She wanted to join the group, however, she had to work instead.

He asked his boss if he could take the week off, therefore, he was able to finish writing.

But if the adverb is important to the meaning of the clause, or if no pause is needed in the reading, then no comma is needed.

Examples:

The cattle indeed ran through the pasture as a group.

I’ll wait for you however long it takes for you to make a decision.

Even if you’ve written a letter, you are therefore a writer.

3.  Commas with cities and states.

This is an often-confusing issue. When do you use commas and when don’t you?

Always use a comma between the city and state, even if the state is spelled out or used as abbreviation.

Examples:

Grand Rapids, Michigan, is one of several Christian publishing hubs.

Will you visit any museums in New Orleans, L.A., this year?

If the state precedes a zip code, do not use a comma.

Example:

Send your book proposal to Your Agent, 123 Proposal Rd., Manuscript, TN 12345.

4.  Commas with compound predicates, dependent clauses, and independent clauses.

Compound Predicates. Do not use commas when you have two verbs that belong to the same subject.

For example,

The writers drove to the writer’s conference and attended every session.

Dependent Clauses. A dependent clause that is considered restrictive cannot be left out of the sentence without changing the meaning of the sentence, therefore, use a comma when the dependent clause comes before the main clause.

For example,

When you send the manuscript to the publisher, tell them we can edit if necessary.

A dependent clause that is considered nonrestrictive, and which provides information that supplements the sentence not necessary to the entire sentence does need a comma.

For example,

I’d like to spend the afternoon in the bookstore, if you don’t mind.

Essentially, if you can leave out the dependent clause (“if you don’t mind”), and the rest of the sentence makes sense, then you need the comma.

Independent Clauses. An independent clause is part of a sentence that can stand on its own. If there are two of them together, joined by a conjunction (and, but, or), then a comma comes before the conjunction.

For example,

The instructors prepared for their sessions six months in advance, and they taught several classes at the annual writer’s conference.

The only exception: Short clauses don’t need a comma.

For example,

Sarah ran the signup table and Bill greeted the guests.

Using commas correctly is important because it makes a world of difference in the meaning of a sentence. One wrong comma could mean someone’s life! (Let’s eat Grandma… or Let’s eat, Grandma.)

Next month, we’ll look at some more ways to edit the punctuation in your manuscript, but for now. . .

Please take a minute and join in the discussion! I’d love to hear from you!

What do you struggle with when using commas?  

Oh! And in case you’re interested, there’s an excellent online writer’s conference going on right now (February 12 — March 5, 2019)! It’s all online — so that means no travel, no hotel, no childcare, no dressing up, NO stress—and the best part is that it’s FREE! 

25 stellar speakers bring you up-to-date industry news, strategies, and encouragement right to the comfort of your living room. I’m presenting two sessions on self-editing, so be sure to click this link >> FlourishWriters Online Conference and register! It’s free!

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