Comma Comma Comma Comma Comma Chameleon

Inspired by the old George Michael song, this week the Big Ideas Writing blog is taken over by our summer intern, Erica Dix, who educates us on …what else? Commas! 20140607_182708

Some of the most common grammatical errors are comma-related. Very few of us can name all of the comma rules with certainty. They are more than just a pause in the sentence, they actually serve a purpose! Here are the ten main uses of commas and how to use them well…with or without the chameleon.

  1. Commas are used with dependent clauses, when the sentence begins with a word such as although, when, because, or if. Like this:

Although chameleons like the sunlight, they are careful not to overheat.

However, they are not used if the dependent clause comes second.

Chameleons are careful not to overheat even though they like the sunlight.

 

  1. Commas are used before a conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so)

The chameleon was blue, but he soon changed back to green.

 

  1. Commas can be used to separate adjectives when an “and” can be used between them, for example:

He was a slow, steady chameleon who was skilled at climbing trees.

..which would be written without a comma as:

He was a slow and steady chameleon who was skilled at climbing trees.

 

  1. Commas can be used after introductory phrases, such as consequently, nonetheless, etc.

However, the chameleon wasn’t at the top of the tree yet.

 

  1. A comma is used after a direct address to someone.

Chameleon, where are you going?

 

  1. Commas are used to separate a phrase in quotations.

I’m going to find my friends,” the chameleon replied.

 

  1. Use a comma when referring to dates…

The chameleon’s birthday is June 21st, 2015.

and places…

Chameleon City, USA

 

  1. And when you are indicating an exact renaming…..

The chameleon, named Jeff, was very intelligent.

 

  1. Commas are used with clauses that contain unnecessary information (nonrestrictive), beginning with “which/who”.

The chameleon, who didn’t know how to read, continued to climb.

The information between the subject (chameleon) and the verb (continued) does not affect the meaning of the sentence and needs to be offset with a comma. However, if it is a clause which contains necessary information (restrictive clause) that begins with “that/who”, a comma is not necessary.

The chameleon that was in a hurry continued to climb.

The information in the clause “that was in a hurry” describes (and often identifies) the subject and affects the meaning of the sentence. It does not need to be offset with commas.

 

  1. The Oxford (Serial) Comma

Yes, we would be amiss if we didn’t mention the dreaded Oxford Comma. The Oxford comma is used at the ends of lists before the word “and”. Many writers and publications deliberately eliminate it but here in the United States, the Oxford Comma is widely acknowledged as grammatically correct.

With Oxford Comma: The chameleon eats lettuce, carrots, and spinach.

Without Oxford Comma: The chameleon eats lettuce, carrots and spinach.

I hope this answered some of your comma questions, and got you thinking about how you use this important piece of punctuation. Leave a comment if you have any of your own tips and tricks about commas. And if you are ever in need of a look at your comma use in something you’ve written, contact us at Big Ideas Writing!