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Even More Punctuation in Dialogue—A Reader’s Question

June 29, 2012 by Fiction Editor Beth Hill
last modified July 19, 2012

Actually, we’re going to address a handful of questions, not just one. These were begun in the comment section of Punctuation in Dialogue, and I thought they deserved a larger audience. (Some questions are answered in the comments section. Others have been pasted into the body of the article.)

Several of these questions have to do with commas. While there are some absolutes regarding comma use, there is also leeway. And there are times when you’ll want to break the rules on purpose to create an impact or establish a style.

Learn the rules, yes. And put them to work. But if you’re worried that you’ll miss something and that a misplaced comma will keep you from a publishing contract, don’t be.

If your story goes nowhere or your characters are flat or you have no idea how to connect story elements, then you can worry about not getting a contract. If you have absolutely no idea about punctuation or grammar, you can worry then too. But don’t let ignorance about one particular use of a punctuation mark eat at you. Publishers (and readers) expect writers to exercise due diligence; they don’t expect writers to be copyeditors. Ask someone, as this reader did, when you don’t know what to do. You’ll find an answer.

Do be consistent. If you’re wrong about the use of a comma, be consistently wrong. Then when you learn the rule, you can correct all the incorrect uses at the same time.

And keep in mind that what’s wrong is not always unacceptable.

While these questions were asked about dialogue, the questions may pertain to punctuation use in any sentence.

______________________________

Question

My question is about taglines. In the following taglines, should I use a comma before the word “as”?

“Now you have to watch the snowboarding competition with me,” I demanded, as I dragged him onto the couch.

“Megan, come with us,” Lily said, as she grabbed Megan’s hand.

Reply

The short answer is no comma for either of your examples. But this is a great question, one I’d like to get into with an article. I’ll post a link here when I’ve got it ready.

Some uses of as would require a comma, however, such as—“Yes, yes, yes,” she said, as was her way.

 

Question

Okay, here is another sentence that makes me crazy because I can’t decide if I should use a comma or a semi-colon. Technically, it is 2 sentences without a connector. “Come on, let’s go.” or should it be “Come on; let’s go.”

Reply

If this is two commands, then yes, it’s also two sentences and you could use a semicolon. But you do have some leeway with that construction. Remember I came, I saw, I conquered.

You can override the rules with short sentences with related clauses. You could also look at come on as an interjection rather than as a command, and that means either a comma or a period. I can’t imagine anyone recommending a semicolon in this sentence. It would be stilted and fussy. Of course if you wanted stilted, that would be one option for creating such a feel.

 

Question

Oh, and here is another word that leaves me unsure…the word due. Is it considered a dependent marker? Here’s an example: “Wes and I are coming back to apartment to stay there for the night due to unexpected troubles from Stef’s sister.” Should there be a comma after the word night?

Reply

Yes, due to used here is a subordinating conjunction in the manner of because and since and as. Since it comes at the end of the sentence, it gets no comma. Had you said—Due to unexpected troubles from Stef’s sister, Wes and I are going back to the apartment—then you would need the comma.

 

Question

Going back to the post with the 2 short sentences and whether to use a comma or a semi-colon. Here is another example: He shook his head. “You’re crazy, you know that?” or should it be “You’re crazy; you know that?”

Reply

Comma for this one.

This sentence is a tag question. It turns a statement into a question. It’s often used to elicit agreement or disagreement or some kind of reply, but sometimes it’s rhetorical.

You’ll see questions such as You just had to do that, didn’t you? and She’d fallen in the lake again, hadn’t she? and You know she’s only looking for sympathy, right? and You think I’m crazy, do you?

 

Question

And here is yet another one. “I called you because I was hoping that you and Omino—I’m sorry; I mean you and Gavin are doing well.”

After “I’m Sorry,” Should there be a comma or a semi-colon?

Reply

A semicolon or period would be correct. Could you argue that I’m sorry is an interjection here rather than an independent clause and use a comma? It might be a stretch. But you could definitely argue the case for sorry by itself—

Sorry, I meant to say I was hungry.

Dang, I meant to say I was hungry.

Also, remember to use the em dash again, rather than a comma, to bookend what you’ve set apart. “I called you because I was hoping that you and Omino—I’m sorry; I mean you and Gavin—are doing well.”

You could also use the em dash in similar constructions, though not for the exact example you used here. “I’m sorry—I was looking for my brother.”

Or you could use a coordinating conjunction. “I’m sorry, but I was looking for my brother.”

 

Question

In the following sentence, it seems that a comma is required, but my computer advises me to put in the word and. I don’t want to do that. So how should I punctuate the sentence then?

He came up smiling, then climbed on top of me.

Comma or semi-colon? In the second part of the sentence, there is no subject. “He” is implied, so, technically it is not a separate sentence.

Reply

This one gets a comma.

Your grammar checker might be trying to prevent you from writing a comma splice—He came up smiling, then he climbed on top of me. X

I’m not sure how much of a line of text grammar checkers read before making their suggestions—yours might see the comma followed by then and assume you forgot the coordinating conjunction.

Note: For dialogue and much first-person narration and even some third-person, I don’t suggest changing this particular comma splice if this is the way a character speaks. Many of us don’t say/think and then he. We simply say then he. If you do use this construction, which is a comma splice, at least use a comma before then rather than writing He came up smiling then he climbed on top of me.

 

Question

My next question is about the word “now.” Are these sentences correct?

“Are you ready to go now?” “Are you happy, now?”

Reply

No comma before adverbs of time at the ends of sentences. (No commas for many adverbs at the ends of sentences.)

 

Question

Okay, now I am told that “since” is a dependent marker, but I have seen sentences where a phrase beginning with “since” has that comma before it. How do I know when to use a comma? In this sentence: Tuesday morning, Wes slept in, since he had the day off. It seems to me that a comma should be there. Yes?

Reply

No comma before since. It’s a subordinating conjunction and since the independent clause comes first, no comma. The reverse, however, would be—

Since he had the day off, Wes slept in on Tuesday morning.

 

Question

I had one more with the word “since”.

“Hey, is your girlfriend still there?” I said, referring to Lily, since I assumed he was home by now. There should be a comma after “Lily” because the phrase “referring to Lily” is not needed to complete the sentence and should be set off by commas. Is that correct?

Reply

Yes, use commas to set off referring to Lily, a non-essential phrase.

Note: You’ll find this construction often in dialogue. After a dialogue tag, set off a participial phrase with a comma—“I’ll be home late,” he said, rubbing his eyes.  “I’ll be home late,” he said, tired beyond measure. But note multiple actions performed by the same subject when one is the action of speaking dialogue—“I’ll be home late,” he said and walked back into his office.

 

Question

In this sentence: “Take your clothes off—but do it slowly.” Should there be a comma after the word off, or is it unnecessary due to the pause created by the dash?

In this sentence: “Take me then,” I said innocently. Should there be a comma after the word “me”?

Reply

You are correct; there is no comma before the em dash.

Yes, there should be a comma after me and before then. In this example, then means in that case rather than at that time.

 

Question

This is a question about how to handle song titles and lyrics. Consider the following sentence: He slid the dial and stopped on a song called ‘Lucky Man’ by Emerson, Lake, Palmer. Should Lucky Man be in single quotes, double quotes, or Italics?

This one has lyrics: I didn’t know the name or the singer, but I knew the song lyrics: “I’ll–be–your crying shoulder…” Again should these lyrics be in single quotes, double quotes or italics?

Reply

Use quotation marks for song titles. And that’s double quotes. (There are very few occasions a fiction writer will use single quotation marks.)

Use quotation marks for lyrics (doubles).

 

Question

Back to quotations. In the following sentence, should “baby” be in single quotes, double quotes or in Italics? “I’m sorry, baby.” The ‘baby’ reference went right through me.

Reply

You have choices here. You could use quotation marks or italics or nothing. But only double quotation marks, not singles. Unless the character is making air quotes, I’d tend to choose italics or nothing.

Question

This sentence left me baffled:
Just one more day to get through and it would be just him and me for four days.
Do I need a comma after the word “through”? Why or why not?” Just one more day to get through” is not a sentence in itself, so that’s what confuses me as to whether or not to use a comma.

Reply

Though you have some leeway with introductory phrases, and the current practice is to use fewer commas, I’d suggest a comma for this one. But there’s no absolute here.

Question

Quotation marks. Single vs. double. Is this correct? All quotes after the period or single quotation after the period. Or should I not use the single quotes at all? Maybe italics instead? In the sentence, Brynn is quoting Gavin, so I assume that single quotes ARE needed here and all the quotes go outside the period. So, is the sentence correct? “If it makes you feel any better, Gavin refers to you as ‘my boyfriend.’”

Reply

This is punctuated correctly. Or you could use italics. Or you could use nothing. This will depend on your emphasis. If the character is doing air quotes, use the single quotation marks. To give the words a snide quality, with an emphasis on boy, try my boyfriend. If Brynn is just relaying information, you need neither quotation marks nor italics.

Question

Is this sentence punctuated properly? My concern is the comma before the word trying and the phrase “the last few days”. I’m thinking the commas should be placed around the phrase but it seems awkward when I put them there.
“Yeah, I’ve just had a lot going on the last few days trying to get back into the swing of things.”

Reply

No comma around the last few days but do put one between days and trying. Trying introduces a participial phrase. “Yeah, I’ve just had a lot going on the last few days, trying to get back into the swing of things.” But for something cleaner try—“Yeah, I’ve just had a lot going on the last few days while I tried to get back into the swing of things.”

Question

Consider the following conversation:
“It’s Ephagee.”
“Did he do something?”
“No, but not because he didn’t want to. He asked me if I would kiss him.”
“I’ll kill him,” Gavin hissed.
“Gavin, I told him ‘no.’”
“So what’s the problem?”
“I told him ‘no’ because of you.”

Should the word “no” be in single quotes? She’s quoting what she told Ephagee, so…. I have it in 2 sentences here. Maybe I should I be using Italics or nothng at all?

Reply

No need for italics or quotation marks here. This would be the same as saying—I told my mom I’d be home for dinner. If you were accenting the word itself for some reason, you could make it stand out. But as you’ve written it here, there’s no need for anything special. (Same answer for the next question you had.)

Question

Okay, here’s another one of those words: “just.” Is it like “since” and “as”? No comma at the end of the sentence but yes if it was at the beginning?

My arms fell back into my lap just as Wes came from the bedroom.

Reply

Yes, just as (not just by itself) is a subordinating conjunction to be punctuated as you’ve said. My arms fell back into my lap just as Wes came from the bedroom AND Just as Wes came from the bedroom, my arms fell back into my lap.

 Question

I believe that a comma should precede a phrase start with a word ending in -ing. So, this sentence should be correct. Yes?

“I can’t sleep, knowing you are out here by yourself.”

Reply

This does get a comma, but it’s because the participial phrase at the end of the sentence modifies I, a word from which it’s separated.

Note: While participial phrases are often preceded by commas, that is not always the case. Is the participial phrase essential to the sentence? The woman waiting for a larger piece of pie was my sister.

 Question

Here’s one that seems so easy, but again, to me, it sounds as though the comma belongs there. Yes or no?

“I want to be home by three thirty, though.”

Reply

Many of us were taught to always use commas with too and though, especially at the ends of sentences. But no comma is necessary. This becomes a style choice.

Question

In the following sentence:
“I’ve been spending so much time with you that I’ve been neglecting a lot of other things.”
Do I need a comma before the word “that”?

Reply

No comma. Yet—“Since I spent so much time with you, I neglected other things.”

Question

I think this is correct, yes?
We agreed that I would go home after work, so I could clean my apartment, in the morning, before I went to my tutoring session.

Reply

Not quite. No commas are necessary. Try—We agreed that I would go home after work so [that] I could clean my apartment in the morning before my tutoring session.

Note: So is sometimes a coordinating conjunction and other times a subordinating conjunction (when it means in order that).

Question

This is a very long sentence, but I think it is punctuated correctly. Yes?
I wanted to go see Gavin before work simply because I missed the crap out of him, and I wasn’t happy with the conversation we’d had the day before, even though it seemed to turn out okay in the end.

Reply

The first comma isn’t necessary since there’s no reason to separate the two reasons she wanted to see Gavin. With the comma, this reads as her wanting to see him for only one reason—because she missed him. That she wasn’t happy with the conversation then becomes a separate issue.

Question

The next [question] deals with the word “which. ”I’m going to assume that it is an independent marker like since, as, and before and does not require a comma. Yes?

In the morning, I woke before Gavin which was very unusual.

Reply

When which (or who) is part of a non-restrictive relative clause, you use a comma to set off that clause. So in your example, you need the comma. In the morning, I woke before Gavin, which was very unusual.

In Amer. English, that is typically used for restrictive clauses and which for non-restrictive. Brit. English allows which as well as that to be used for restrictive clauses.

What’s the difference between restrictive and non-restrictive? Think of non-restrictive clauses as parentheticals. They add information to the sentence, but the sentence makes sense—in terms of meaning and grammar—without them.

The computer that sat on the desk was broken. This says there is only one computer on the desk and it’s broken. There may be other computers in the room (and they may or may not be broken), but they aren’t on the desk.

The computer, which sat on the desk, was broken. This says the computer under discussion (or the only computer) is both on the desk and broken.

Sentences with who can be tricky. Both of the following are correct.

The convict who escaped from jail and went on a killing spree was never captured.

The convict, who escaped from jail and went on a killing spree, was never captured.

 Question

I can’t decide if I need a comma before the word “happy” or not. Can you advise?

I spent the night with Wes, and in the morning, I went off to school happy in the knowledge that both men were in a good place.

Reply

The phrase beginning with happy is an adjective phrase. If it’s non-restrictive, it gets a comma. If it’s restrictive, it  doesn’t. So—I spent the night with Wes and in the morning, I went off to school, happy in the knowledge that both men were in a good place.

Question

Also, is this sentence correct? I didn’t think that it required any commas.

All I could do now was stand my ground and hope and pray he didn’t see us kissing.

Reply

You’ve got options here. Since I is the subject for both stand my ground and hope and pray he didn’t see, you don’t need a comma. But because hope and pray often operates as a unit, you might want to maintain that sense of it being a unit by adding a comma—All I could do now was stand my ground, and hope and pray he didn’t see us kissing.

Consider, however, that you’ve got a cliche with stand my ground and a common phrase in hope and pray. When not create your own phrase that fits these characters in this moment rather than going with the familiar and common?

Question

Should I have “The Girl with the Pearl Earring” in Italics or in Quotation marks and if it should be set off by comas as I have it. He was sitting in his chair facing the portrait, The Girl with the Pearl Earring, that I had given to him for Christmas.

Reply

Yes, titles of paintings (of many things) are italicized.

This does need commas to set it off because it’s a non-restrictive appositive (a renaming of the noun portrait).

Question

This is a question of when to begin and end a paragraph. Are these sentences correct the way I have them?

I climbed into his lap and began to sob again. He held me for a long time and let me cry. Eventually, he spoke.

“I think you should call the Muldana…”

Reply

Switching to a new paragraph for dialogue is always appropriate. There are options, depending on circumstances, but this is correct for what you have written.

Question

Not sure on this at all:

“I think you should call the Muldana and tell him the circumstances. He would probably let you out of loving a human, provided you started seeing him. ‘A higher calling.’ That’s how he would see it.”

Do I need the comma after the word “human”? Also, are the words, “A higher calling” considered a quote by the Muldana and therefore set off by single quotes?

Reply

You do need a comma after human to set off the participial phrase that follows.

For a higher calling, you have options. Quotation marks if you’re stressing that he’s actually used that phrase, italics to simply emphasize the phrase, or nothing at all to simply convey information.

 Question

“My tutor has always been in the picture even before you came along. He didn’t become an issue until you made him one. So, you tell me, why should I take your crap?”

I did not put commas after “picture” or “issue”, but I did after “me”. Are these sentences correct?

Reply

There are some exceptions to the rule about no comma with dependent clauses that come after independent clauses; this is one of them. When the dependent clause is non-essential, use a comma. So—My tutor has always been in the picture, even before you came along. Yet note this—My tutor was in the picture even before you came along.

The other commas are correct.

Question

Okay, this next sentence has a semi-colon. Someone else suggested that it go there, although I wasn’t told exactly why. Can you tell me if this is placed properly and if so, why?
If it weren’t for him, I’d still be sitting there; strung up like a prisoner waiting for his mercy.

Reply

No semicolon. Semicolons separate (or join) independent clauses not joined by a coordinating conjunction—I wanted cookies; my brother insisted on cake. Semicolons can also be used in lists when confusion can arise from use of the comma—I studied literature, philosophy, and drama; Karen studied boys and chemistry; and Janelle studied Spanish, artistic expression, and criminology.

Use a comma instead.

Question

This next question has to do with the word “and”. I know that when connecting 2 complete sentences using the word and that a comma should be used, BUT I notice that sometimes the comma is unnecessary. I am trying to figure out exactly when that is true. For instance, in the following sentences, is the comma necessary?

This poor seaman came into my room, and I looked at her, and I just snapped.
I got off the bed, and I locked the door.
I grabbed her, and I began to kiss her.
She could have reported me, and I would have lost everything.
You are good inside, and I love you.
He buried his face in my chest, and he sobbed.
Are yhe commas in these sentyences placed correctly, of not. Why?

Reply

It is always correct to use a comma between independent clauses when they’re joined by a coordinating conjunction. Yet, when the clauses are short and closely related, the writer’s style can override that rule.

In your examples, I’d consider dropping the comma for these sentences—

I got off the bed, and I locked the door.
I grabbed her, and I began to kiss her.
He buried his face in my chest, and he sobbed.

I’d also consider changing these to—

I got off the bed and locked the door.
I grabbed her and began to kiss her.
He buried his face in my chest and sobbed.

Question

I put a comma before the word “with” in this sentence. Again, it is placed there to indicate the pause. I just don’t know if I should have put it there. My schedule between the two men in my life remained very structured, with time allotted for school, work, and girls’ night out.

Reply

This is another case of a non-essential, this one introduced by a preposition. Yes, it gets a comma.

Question

Here is another word that I see on the dependent marker list, “when.” It just seems in this sentence like the comma needs to be there. Yes or no?

We were waiting in line to buy popcorn and soda, when I saw Wes and Stef with a girl I had never seen before.

Reply

One more case of essential or non-essential. I read this as essential and would not use a comma.

Question

Brynn, I love you, and lord knows I would like nothing more than to have you all to myself, but not like this.

Although the phrase “but not like this” is not a sentence on its own, there should be comma here. Yes?

Reply

Use a comma here between contrasting elements. Be alert for phrases beginning with but, never, not, and yet.

Question

The same goes for this sentence. I had to work on Saturday night, and so did Megan. Should the comma be there?

Reply

This one just looks tricky. It’s two independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction, so it gets a comma.

Question

And finally, back to the -ing. Is this sentence correct?

He fell to his knees and shook his long hair like a dog, spraying me with water.

Reply

This is correct. It’s a participial phrase.

Let me add a note here: You could also skip the comma if spraying me with water was a reference to the dog rather than to he.

Question

“My tutor has always been in the picture even before you came along. He didn’t become an issue until you made him one. So, you tell me, why should I take your crap?”

I did not put commas after “picture” or “issue,” but I did after “me.” Are these sentences correct?

Reply

“My tutor was in the picture even before you came along.” Or “My tutor has always been been in the picture, even before you came along.”

Think in terms of essential and non-essential.

The second sentence, with the comma after me, is correct.

______________________________

I’ll continue to add to this list as questions come in.

Keep in mind—

You want punctuation to be correct, but you don’t want paragraphs so full of punctuation that the text is difficult to read or visually cluttered. Rewrite sentences and phrases if the visuals of punctuation get in the way of the reader’s ease of reading.

Even if the punctuation is correct, if the reader has to pause or reread or is slowed by the sheer amount of punctuation, that section of text needs work.

Entertain your readers. But make sure they can read—that they want to read—what you’ve written.

***

 

 

Tags: ,     Posted in: A Reader Asks..., Grammar & Punctuation

128 Responses to “Even More Punctuation in Dialogue—A Reader’s Question”

  1. Jeff says:

    This is an amazing list, please, please keep it updated :) You rule.

  2. Nancy LeBrun says:

    You have been incredibly helpful and I have many more questions to come. I am only on page 146 and the book has 486 pages. I’m pretty sure I’ll run into some more head scratching issues. Thank you so miuch for the insight.-NL

  3. Nancy LeBrun says:

    This sentence left me baffled:
    Just one more day to get through and it would be just him and me for four days.
    Do I need a comma after the word “through”? Why or why not?” Just one more day to get through” is not a sentence in itself, so that’s what confuses me as to whether or not to use a comma..

  4. Nancy LeBrun says:

    Quotation marks. Single vs. double. Is this correct? All quotes after the period or single quotation after the period. Or should I not use the single quotes at all? Maybe Italics instead? In the sentence, Brynn is quoting Gavin, so I assume that single quotes ARE needed here and all the quotes go outside the period. So, is the sentence correct? i’m feeling a bit redundant here…
    “If it makes you feel and better, Gavin refers to you as ‘my boyfriend.’”

  5. Nancy LeBrun says:

    Is this sentence punctated properly? My concern is the comma before the word trying and the phrase “the last few days”. I’m thinking the commas should be placed around the phrase but it seems awkward when I put them there..
    “Yeah, I’ve just had a lot going on the last few days trying to get back into the swing of things.”

  6. Nancy LeBrun says:

    Consider the following conversation:
    “It’s Ephagee.”
    “Did he do something?”
    “No, but not because he didn’t want to. He asked me if I would kiss him.”
    “I’ll kill him,” Gavin hissed.
    “Gavin, I told him ‘no.’”
    “So what’s the problem?”
    “I told him ‘no’ because of you.”

    Should the word “no” be in single quotes? She’s quoting what she told Ephagee, so…. I have it in 2 sentences here. Maybe I should I be using Italics or nothng at all?

  7. Nancy LeBrun says:

    In the same thread she later says:
    “I know, and I would never disrespect you. That’s why I told him no.”
    Again that word “no” haunts me.

  8. Nancy LeBrun says:

    okay, here’s another one of those words: “just.” Is it like “since” and “as”? No comma at the end of the sentence but yes if it was at the beginning?

    My arms fell back into my lap just as Wes came from the bedroom.

  9. Nancy LeBrun says:

    I believe that a comma should precede a phrase start with a word ending in -ing. So, this sentence should be correct. Yes?

    “I can’t sleep, knowing you are out here by yourself.”

  10. Nancy LeBrun says:

    Here’s one that seems so easy, but again, to me, it sounds as though the comma bewlongs there. yes or no?

    “I want to be home by three thirty, though.”

  11. Nancy LeBrun says:

    In the following sentence:
    “I’ve been spending so much time with you that I’ve been neglecting a lot of other things.”
    Do I need a comma before the word “that”?

  12. Nancy LeBrun says:

    I think this is correct, yes?
    We agreed that I would go home after work, so I could clean my apartment, in the morning, before I went to my tutoring session.

  13. Nancy LeBrun says:

    Okay last one for tonight. This is a very long sentence, but I think it is punctuated correctly. Yes?
    I wanted to go see Gavin before work simply because I missed the crap out of him, and I wasn’t happy with the conversation we’d had the day before, even though it seemed to turn out okay in the end.

  14. Nancy LeBrun says:

    Note: So is sometimes a coordinating conjunction and other times a subordinating conjunction (when it means in order that).

    This is something I did not know. I got into the habit of automatically putting a comma before the word “so” unless it was used like “it was so easy.” Tomorrow I will begin the edit again. I stopped and wrote a chapter for my FanFic. I needed a break. So don’t be surprised if tomororw night, you see a whole slew of new questions. BTW, I think you are awesome and don’t be surprised if you see your name in my acknowlegemnts.

  15. Nancy LeBrun says:

    Are the following sentences punctuates correctly?

    I walked up to Gavin and kissed him briefly, the way any established couple would do.

    “Well, unfortunately, I can’t stay; I have to go to work.”

    Screw it; let her think Gavin is bankrolling me.

    And finally:

    “She said she called you those hurtful names out of anger, and the truth is, she wouldn’t have had a happy life with me because I wanted too much.”

    • Nancy, the first three work as they are. The last also works as is, or you could take out the first comma—“She said she called you those hurtful names out of anger and the truth is, she wouldn’t have had a happy life with me because I wanted too much.”

  16. Nancy LeBrun says:

    Here are a few more. The first seems like it should have a comma, but you said that “just” does not require it. Although you did use the words “just as” in your prior explanation and this sentance only has ‘Just” Should I use a comma in this case?

    “I told her that you don’t see me as older, just more mature.”

    whereas this this sentence does not. Correct?

    Gavin walked into the kitchen just as I said it.

    The next deals with the word “which”. I’m going to assume that it is an independent marker like, since, as. and before and does not require a comma. Yes?

    In the morning, I woke before Gavin which was very unusual.

  17. Nancy LeBrun says:

    Okay, here’s an interesting question. It involves the words “You know”
    In this sentence I used a comma because I want the reader to pause after the words “You know”

    “You know, I did not need to hear that.”

    But in this sentence, I don’t want the reader to pause.

    “You know it’s going to be a madhouse.”

    Are these each correct?

    • Nancy, you and Jeff are correct in your use of commas here. It’s not necessarily about pauses, however. As Jeff said, the first you know is an introductory phrase. In the second sentence, the words are simply subject and verb.

  18. jeff says:

    It looks like “you know” in the first one is non-essential, so it gets the comma. In the second one, “you” is the subject and “know” is the verb, and you don’t separate the two with a comma.

    Also, in the first one, “You know” is an introductory bit, and you always put commas after those. I got this from:
    http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/commas/

  19. Nancy LeBrun says:

    I can’t decide if Ineed a comma before the word “happy” or not. Can you advise?

    I spent the night with Wes, and in the morning, I went off to school happy in the knowledge that both men were in a good place.

    Also, is this sentence correct? I didn’t think that it required any commas.

    All I could do now was stand my ground and hope and pray he didn’t see us kissing.

  20. jeff says:

    I’m not sure enough on the first one to say, other than I think it’d work both ways.

    The second one looks fine without a comma. I think someone might tell you to put commas around “now” since it interrupts a clause but I’d leave it out because this is a rather emphatic thing you’re doing, going around kissing people in public.

  21. Nancy LeBrun says:

    In this sentence, I wanted to know if I shoul dhave “The Girl with the Pearl Earring” in Italics or in Quotation marks and if it should be set off by comas as I have it.
    He was sitting in his chair facing the portrait, The Girl with the Pearl Earring, that I had given to him for Christmas.

    This is a question of when to begin and end a paragraph.Are these sentences correct the way I have them? I did not begin a new paragraph until Gavin actually speaks.

    I climbed into his lap and began to sob again. He held me for a long time and let me cry. Eventually, he spoke.
    “I think you should call the Muldana…

  22. Nancy LeBrun says:

    Not sure on this at all:

    “I think you should call the Muldana and tell him the circumstances. He would probably let you out of loving a human, provided you started seeing him. ‘A higher calling.’ That’s how he would see it.”

    Do I need the comma after the word “human”? Also, are the words, “A higher calling” considered a quote by the Muldana and therefore set off by single quotes?

  23. Nancy LeBrun says:

    .Do I need the comma after the word “broken”?

    I was neglecting him, but my heart was so broken, I had shut down.

    In this sentence I and not sure that I need the comma before the word “and”. Also, Do I need a cooma before the word “who” in the next sentence?

    I went home to get some books that I had left in my bedroom in anticipation that I would be sleeping at Gavin’s, but as soon as I saw the bed, I flopped into it, and I was gone. It was Gavin who woke me.

    • Yes, a comma after broken.

      You would normally put a comma between independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction, but you do have leeway. It’s never wrong to use the comma in such a situation, but it might be too much for the sentence.

      No comma after Gavin. This goes back to restrictive and non-restrictive.

  24. Nancy LeBrun says:

    This is short and sweet, but I am still insure whether I need a comma after the word “said”.
    “You’d better go,” I said, defeated.

  25. Nancy LeBrun says:

    She’s just protective, like a big sister. It’s always been like that. I’m the vulnerable one, prone to getting hurt, and she’s the strong, protective one. I think she’s more pissed at Stef than she is at you.”

    I would like to know if I have punctuated this correctly. I know that “like a big sister’ is a clause and there shouldn’t be a comma before the word “like”; however, I want there to be a pause, but I think an em dashwould be too much. Should I leave the comma or take it out? My other question are the commas setting off “prone to get hurt.” That is correct? Yes?

  26. Nancy LeBrun says:

    Earlier, you explained the rules of using “so” as a corrdinating junction with the meang “in order that”. So is the following sentence correct without the comma before the word “so”?

    Wes climbed onto the couch and positioned himself so I was in front of him, but I could still turn to see his face.

  27. Nancy LeBrun says:

    He left, and he shut the door behind him.

    Should I leave the comma in this sentence? I am trying to emphasize each statement.

  28. Please tell me the Oxford comma is alive, well, and preferred.

    • Anthony, it is alive and well. As for preferred, that I can’t say. It’s become a style choice. I admit I prefer it, but if a writer doesn’t use it or a publisher’s style sheet calls for removing it, those are legitimate choices. My advice is to be consistent—use it all the time or none of the time.

  29. Nancy LeBrun says:

    I believe this is correct with the comma before “not” since I seem to see most phrases beginning with “not’ set off by a comma. The same goes for phrases beginning with a word ending in -ing like “Knowing”.

    I pushed the lock, not knowing if he heard it.

  30. Nancy LeBrun says:

    I’m hoping this correct, I set the phrase “trying to get free” with commas because the sentence would be complete without the phrase. Is this correct?

    . I was fighting with him, trying to get free, until the tears of anger and frustration finally began to roll down my cheeks.

  31. Nancy LeBrun says:

    This sentence has to do with the word “when” as well. I don’t think there should be a comma before when, but then the word “lately” seems out of place. I feel like there should be commas somewhere….

    It would certainly explain his passiveness lately when it came to seeing me.

  32. Nancy LeBrun says:

    I am confronted with the word “where”. Dependent clauses do not require a comma, but it seems like the comma should be there. Maybe I should be setting off “at the oceanfront” with commas. Yes?

    Gavin and I went to the beach at the oceanfront, where the boardwalk runs.

    • Nancy, since we covered the first part of this comment, I edited the comment.

      If I remind you that where the boardwalk runs is non-essential (or non-restrictive), what does that tell you? It does indeed get a comma.

  33. Nancy LeBrun says:

    Okay, this is like the last sentence. I feel that the phrase “who had drowned in a previous life” should be set of my commas. Although the sentence would be weak without the phrase, it would still be a complete sentence.

    For the life of me, I couldn’t understand how someone, who had drowned in a previous life, could have no fear of the ocean.

    • No commas around those words. But I’d also consider dropping the introductory words. That’s definitely a cliche. So . . . I couldn’t understand how someone who’d drowned in a previous life had no fear of the ocean.

  34. Nancy LeBrun says:

    This is like a previous sentence. “but not the tension” is not a sentence in itself, but, again, it seems to require a comma.

    Gavin broke the silence, but not the tension.

    “Why can’t she say that?” he said, still staring at me.

    Does this sentence need the comma after said? If it was just “staring at me”, I believe it would, but with the addition of the word “still”, does it change the need for the comma?

    • We covered commas for but and contrast. And you’re right, not staring at me is a participial phrase, so that gets a comma.

      Your instincts are on track, so as you’re editing, try not to second-guess yourself.

  35. Nancy LeBrun says:

    I’m just not sure if I’ve got this one right at all. Please advise.

    I couldn’t help but wonder why I couldn’t get a sense of someone’s emotions, the way that Gavin could.

    Again, this next sentence feels wrong without the comma before “just like him”.

    After all, I was a Golman, just like him.

  36. Nancy LeBrun says:

    I know I need the first comma in this sentence, but do I need the second one?
    I think if he tries to get back together with you, and you’re not there, you’ll lose him for good.

    • Yes, include the second comma, treating the phrase as a parenthetical. But you don’t necessarily need the first comma. If the speaker is thinking the two things, you don’t need to separate them. You still need the comma after there, however.

  37. Nancy LeBrun says:

    We only made love once, though, instead of the double shot that we were used to. Gavin said that he sensed that I was still very sad even if I didn’t allow it to show.
    2 questions: First, am I correct in setting off “though” in commas? and second, should there be a comma after the word “sad”?

  38. Nancy LeBrun says:

    All I could do now was try to go with at least a little bit of dignity.

    Do I need any commas in the sentence, perhaps to set of the words “at least”?

    I believe the follwing sentence is punctuated correctly. Do you agree?

    “He told me that you love each other, and that even if he backed out of the equation, you would never forgive me in your heart, even if you married me.”

  39. Nancy LeBrun says:

    I walked up on you, in a bikini, walking the boardwalk with Mr. Perfect.”

    I’m confused with this. I want to put a comma after “bikini”, but then I think I need one after “you”as well to set of “in a bikini”. It doesn’t look right with 2 commas, though. Can you advise?

    I’m still concerned with the -ing thing. I think this is correct. Yes?

    I held onto both hands as I walked backward, pulling him into the house.

    One more for tonight. Is the correct as is?

    I woke up some time later, when Wes was climbing back into bed.

  40. Nancy LeBrun says:

    My next question is about the words “as if”. I know that a comma does not precede a phrase beginning with “as” nor with a phrase beginnig with “if”, but what about the two words together? I have 2 sentences that I used these words in. The second is rather racy and not fit to print here, but the first is not. Can you tell me if I should use the comma or not?

    He kissed me tenderly, tasting my lips and then stopping—waiting, as if to gage my reaction.

    The second sentence ends like this:

    …ever so slowly, as if revealing a prize.

    I feel that each of these sentences needs the comma.

  41. Nancy LeBrun says:

    Consider the following sentence.
    He led me to the dining room table where he had a blanket folded several times to create a cushion across the table.

    Does this sentence need any commas? I’m thinking that “folded several times to create a cushion” needs to be set off by commas. Yes?

  42. Nancy LeBrun says:

    In the following sentences, I went back and forth, comma or no comma. Can you advise?

    I smiled for him, even though my world was falling apart. Wes kissed me, and I wrapped myself around him so tightly; I thought I’d never let go.
    We drove out to Pungo, where Wes had gone off-roading before.
    Rather than go to his apartment and get in the shower, he took us to the oceanfront, where we could shower off in public.

  43. Nancy LeBrun says:

    Here is another one of those “as if” sentences.

    He immediately wiped his face, as if it was wrong for him to cry.

    And another -ing phrase.

    I can’t let him leave for Afghanistan knowing that he has no future with me.

  44. Nancy LeBrun says:

    In the following sentence, my computer promted me to place a semi-colon in the sentence, although I think it only needs a comma. am I right?
    Also is it correct to set off “which is closer to school” with commas since it is not necessary to the sentence?
    Foinally, is it correct to place the comma before the phrase “Which was perfect because…”
    I told her everything; including the fact that Gavin would let us live in the condo, which was closer to school, once our lease was up. When I told her that I would have to break up with Wes, I started to cry, which was perfect because when I called Wes, I was already crying.

  45. Nancy LeBrun says:

    This sentyence seems awkward I know, but my question is whether or not to use a comma before the word “to”.

    I tried to make Sunday a day of cleaning my apartment, to get Wes to give me some space.

  46. GavReads says:

    Nancy, I hope you’re sending flowers….

  47. Nancy LeBrun says:

    I wasn’t sure if I needed a comma before and/or after the words “once before”. Please advise.

    We arrived at the event, and Stef was there, once again, with a girl I had never seen before.

    In this one, I can;t be sure if I need the comma after the phrase “The next thing I knew.”

    The next thing I knew, someone or some ones grabbed me from either side and hauled me out of the banquet hall.

  48. Nancy LeBrun says:

    This sentence seems to contain a lot of commas. Is this correct as is?

    I would have no qualms about taking your life right now, but the doctor, here, says you are pregnant, and we want that baby.”

  49. Nancy LeBrun says:

    I need helpwith this sentence. I have no clue if I need a comma after the word “Two”. I left the comma out because I wasn’t sure.

    Two I recognized as Metformin, but the third was foreign to me.

    I believe this sentence is correct. Can you confirm?

    I’m headed to the book store, right now, to find you a book.”

  50. Nancy LeBrun says:

    He put his hand on my ankle, over the top of the blanket, in an effort to comfort me.

    I’m not sure if I need to set of the phrase “over the top of the blanket” by commas. The sentence makes perfect sense without, which makes me believe that it does need the commas.

  51. Nancy LeBrun says:

    This sentence doesn’t follow any of the rules, so I don’t know if I need a comma, a semi-colon, or nothing at all after the word “low”.

    He kept his voice low as this was a private conversation.

    This next sentence is another one where the sentence is fine without the phrase “since I was all cried out for now”, so I think it should be set off by commas.

    I decided that, since I was all cried out for now, it might be a good time to call Gavin.

  52. Nancy LeBrun says:

    I’ll call you back in a little bit, as soon as I’m off work.”

    I feel like the comma was needed here. Same thing with this one.

    I turned on the faucet in the bathroom, so it dripped, just so I could hear something while I read my book.

  53. Nancy LeBrun says:

    This is a long sentence, but I think I punctuatued it correctly. Can you confirm?

    . I ate my breakfast, and when he came in to retrieve my tray, he brought me two pairs of shorts and two T-shirts with the U.S. Navy insignia on them, as well as two pairs of underwear and a sports bra, size 34-C.

  54. Nancy LeBrun says:

    When you turned up at my table at the restaurant after Christmas, I have to admit, I was flustered.

    My instints tell me that the comma is not needed because I could out the word “that” there; however, the comma creates a more dramamtic pause. Should I use the comma?

    That means they can’t trust that he will have that survival instinct, and that could be dangerous, not only for him, but for the others in his squadron as well.”
    “So, ironically, the exact thing you tried to avoid has happened.”

    Just checking to make sure the commas after “him” in the first sentence and surrounding “ironically” in the second sentence belong there.

  55. Nancy LeBrun says:

    “who” Does it require a comma before it in this sentence?

    She even went over to the apartment and talked to Stef who could offer nothing more than what he witnessed on Saturday night.

    And this sentence with the phrase “or worse yet” followed by a clause beginning with “if”?

    What will happen if he gives it to his superiors, or worse yet, if he gets caught with it?”

  56. Nancy LeBrun says:

    “I guess if I get new guards, all of a sudden, that might be a clue.”

    Not sure if I need the comma before “all of a sudden”, but I’m pretty sure I need the one after.

    Consider these sentences:

    I opened a new account at a different bank in D.C., but there is only a small amount of money there, a few thousand dollars. I keep a suitcase filled with clothes in my car, as well as a passport and fake I.D., in case I need to run.”

    Do I need the comma before “a few thousaind dollars” and am I correct to set off the phrase “as well as…” by commas?

  57. Nancy LeBrun says:

    I told him, if he didn’t want to raise the child, to give it to Megan because she’s always wanted children. I knew if she got the baby, she would give it to you. She wouldn’t let me down.”

    In these sentences, I have similar phrases. In the first “if he didn’t want to raise the child” is followed by a phrase beginning with “to”. I think the first phrase should be set off by commas. In the second, “if she got the baby” is followed by what is a sentence on its own, so I don’t think I need a comma before “if”. Am I making any sense?

  58. Nancy LeBrun says:

    An officer I’ve never seen before told me that they let Wes go free.

    Do I need to set “I’ve never seen before” need to be set off by commas? The sentence makes perfect sense without the phrase, so I would think that the commas are needed.

  59. Nancy Lebrun says:

    This next line is not really a sentence at all unless I assume that “It’s” is understood in the sentence in which case I guess I would use a sem-colon after “us”. Then again, “not’ is in direct contrast which would warrant a comma. Am I correct here?

    “Good for us, maybe not so good for the guard if Wes decided to turn him in.”

  60. Nancy LeBrun says:

    Are these 2 sentences correct?

    I tried to eat it as slowly as I could, to savor the flavor.

  61. Nancy LeBrun says:

    oops, I hit submit before I put in the second sentence…

    My options, for the most part, were sports or movies.

    The semi-colon goes after the quotation marks, yes?

    It was “Rocky”; a movie about the proverbial underdog rising to fame and fortune and finding love along the way.

  62. Nancy LeBrun says:

    “as well”…. Does this need to be set off by commas, or no?

    Thankfully, he is in a hurry as well since he is going out to sea in just a few weeks.”

    Not sure why, but I feel like I need a comma after the word “us” or should it be a semi-colon. “I think the more they know about us” is incomplete as a sentence.

    “I don’t think he is comfortable with giving any information out, but I think the more they know about us, the chances of them accepting us increase.”

  63. Nancy LeBrun says:

    I could see how you enticed Gavin to love you, even though he knew he shouldn’t.

    Is this correct or do I need another comma after “though”? Or do I not need any commas at all?

    In this sentence, my computer prompted me to put a comma after the phrase “When you first came to me”, but it’s follwed by “and’ and an incomplete sentence leaving me to believe there should NOT be a comma after the word “me”. Can you tell me why it is calling for the comma and whether or not it should be there? Also, the single quotation encompasses more than one sentence. Is it correct the way I have it?

    “When you first came to me, and wanted to end your life, I thought to myself, ‘what a pity, such a pretty young thing. Why would someone throw her life away like that?’ Then, …”

    • Nancy LeBrun says:

      Okay, I looked up “even though” and none of the sample sentences had a comma, so I am going on the assumption that this would never get a comma. so, both of these sentences should correct.

      When I got back to my room, I called Gavin even though I knew he would probably be busy.

      I could see how you enticed Gavin to love you even though he knew he shouldn’t.

  64. Nancy LeBrun says:

    In the following sentence, I think that everything after “which means” is essential to the sentence, and therfore, makes it a restrictibe clause and does n’t require a comma. Am I right. This restrictive and non-restrictive stuff is driving me insane.

    The good thing is that since you are at the V.A. Hospital, you are not on base which means the only guards we need to deal with are the ones brought in specifically to watch over you.

  65. Namcy LeBrun says:

    This is another one of those long sentences that I just need clarification that I have punctuated it correctly.

    I couldn’t figure out if he said it because he believed that he wouldn’t be able to get me out, and that he would, indeed, be shipped out, or if he said it, knowing that they might be listening to us.

  66. Nancy LeBrun says:

    I couldn’t be more confused on this one. Is thos correct?

    “The fact that someone loves you so much even though he knows that, deep down, you are nothing like him speaks volumes.”

  67. Nancy LeBrun says:

    Now, I was resolved to get out of this prison, come hell or high water.

    Is the comma correct after prison?

    Here is another long sentence that leaves me unsure of my punctuation.I hope it’s correct.

    “I keep lying to myself in the hopes that the lie will become real, but you know as well as I do that you and Wes will leave me here, and I will have no choice but to let you go.”

  68. Nancy LeBrun says:

    Here is another case where my computer prompted me to put in a semi-colon. I’m not sure it’s correct. Please advise.

    You know everything about me; the good and the bad, and you still love me.”

    Commas correct here?

    Gavin and I talked about Christmas with his family, and with mine, and when we made love in the snow.

  69. Nancy LeBrun says:

    I’m still havong a hard time with restrictive and non-redtrictive clauses. Is this punctauted correctly?

    I got to my feet and slid past Peterman, who was still on the floor with his hand on his gun, and I rushed to the security guard.

    There were TV screens showing different parts of the hospital.

    Do I need a comma after “screens”? I’m thinking yes, but it seems like the pause is not needed.

  70. Nancy LeBrun says:

    His face was weathered like he had spent a lot of time in the sun.

    I’m thinking that instead of “like”, I could use “as if” and I would not use a comma because that would be a dependent marker, so I’m assuming that “like” is also a dependent marker and does not require a comma. Am I right?

  71. Nancy LeBrun says:

    Am I correct in that this sentence needs no commas?

    “You know I can’t tell you that just like you can’t just let me go even though I would be willing to keep in contact with you.”

    These sentences I was unsure about. In the first, do I need a comma after someone since “if I ask a question” is not a full sentence? In the second, do I use a semi-colon? They are two complete sentences.

    “I just want the respect of being answered when I speak to someone or if I ask a question.”
    “You need to understand; I can’t just pull anyone in here for guard duty.”

  72. Nacny LeBrun says:

    “At least in two weeks, he will be in Afghanistan where, hopefully, no one other than his wingman and his direct commander will know about the situation.”

    Am I correct to set “hopefully” off by commas?

    Not sure if I need the comma in this next sentence.

    The colonel left the room, followed by Petty Officer Gibson.

  73. Nancy LeBrun says:

    It was a little creepy, knowing who was listening to us.

    Comma after creepy?

    Is this sentence correct or do I need a cpoma before “getting”?

    “I have the guard getting a doctor.”

  74. Nancy LeBrun says:

    I read my book, and I took a nap in the late afternoon, as I had become accustomed to doing.

    Do I need the comma after “afternoon” considering the content of the phrase that follows?

    Is the next sentence correct? Gavin is quoting his mother. I want to make sure the comma after “waters” is correct.

    “She wants me to ‘test the waters,’ as she put it.”

  75. Nancy LeBrun says:

    I was still on my knees facing Wes.

    Do I need a comma after “knees”?

    He said it to cover, but it still stung, especially since he knew my first big fight with Wes was because I told him my life wasn’t his business.

    With the addition of the word “especially” in front of the word “sonce”, does this warrant a comma?

  76. Nancy LeBrun says:

    I’m on the last 80 pages of the book. There are only a few that I come across that I am unsure about. For example, this very long sentence. The only thing I wasn’t sure about was the semi-colon. Is it correct or should I have used a comma?

    “You will learn much more about us in the days to come in a classroom setting, but the quick version is this: Golyte females choose two males to mate with for life; the primary male and the Koto.”
    And this sentence:

    He’s going to find out sooner or later, anyway, when Gavin comes back to me.”

    Is it correct to surround “anyway” with commas?

  77. Nancy LeBrun says:

    He raises the children, much like a nanny.

    I am hoping the comma here is correct.

    “Who” again. Is this sentence correct without a comnma?

    I rushed back to Wes who was in the game room playing a game in which he had to fly a fighter jet through obstacles and shoot things.

  78. Nancy LeBrun says:

    “We are not meat eaters, although I have eaten chicken, courtesy of the princess.”

    I wasn’t sure about the commas in this sentence…or these.

    I snuggled into Wes’s side, pulled up his shirt, and put my hand on his abdomen, as I always did.
    After the movie, we ate dinner and spent the evening in the game room, which was becoming Wes’s favorite haunt.

  79. Nancy LeBrun says:

    They have been in the room since last night, after Ilita came home from work.

    Do I need the comma in this sentence?

  80. Nancy LeBrun says:

    As we turned the corner, Wes spied us as he sat on the steps, obviously awaiting our return.

    I think that the comma needs to be after steps because it is Wes who is awaing our return, not the steps. Is this correct?

  81. Nancy LeBrun says:

    “Which reminds me: does Wes know what your last name is?”

    Is this colon correct? Someone who originally proofread the story inserted this. Do you agree with it, or should I use some other form of punctuation?

  82. I have a question to ask you.
    She was setting up the tent when I arrived.
    When I arrived, she was setting up the tent.

    Why must there be a comma in the second statement? I would appreciate your reply.
    Thank you.

  83. Robert, when a dependent clause comes first, you use a comma to separate it from the independent clause that follows it. (As I just did in that sentence.) However, when the independent clause comes first, you don’t use a comma to separate them (except in circumstances of extreme contrast—commas should come before although, even though, and whereas).

    One clue is the use of subordinating conjunctions. If one is used to start the sentence, use a comma at the end of the clause. If the subordinating conjunction is in the middle of the sentence, don’t use a comma.

    Common subordinating conjunctions (there are others): if, when, as, until, since, unless, while, so that, after, before.

    Does that help?

  84. Hi there. I am doing some freelance editing on some children’s stories that are meant to teach English as a foreign language in Russia. The author consistently uses commas before joining words like ‘but’ and ‘because’. I was always taught in school never to do this, but in practice people often do, particuarly if you want a pause before the second part of the sentence. I did a proofreading and editing short course a few years ago and I was taught to only correct things that are wrong and not interfere with the author’s style. I’m a little confused as to whether I should delete these all these commas, just the ones that can’t be justified by their use affecting the way the sentence reads, or whether deleting them would be classed as interfering with the author’s style. Is her use of the commas actually WRONG?

    Some examples:

    Lily likes to swim. Barky can swim. He is not afraid to swim, but he doesn’t like to swim. Lily is his friend. Sometimes Barky swims with Lily, because he loves her.

    Barky can’t ride a bicycle, because he doesn’t have fingers.

  85. Elizabeth, you’ve asked some good questions, both regarding the specifics in these examples as well as those concerning how to deal with the edit.

    First, regarding the edit—can you share notes as well as comments with your client? If you can, let her know why you’ve made the suggestions you’ve made. She has the ultimate say, but if you know a rule she might not know, then you owe it to her to tell her about it. Show her why you’ve made the choices you’ve made. There’s nothing at all wrong with sharing your concerns regarding rules.

    As for the three examples, two out of three are correct. Let’s look at them one at a time.

    He is not afraid to swim, but he doesn’t like to swim.

    The comma here is correct. We use commas before any of the coordinating conjunctions (for, as, nor, but, or, yet, so) when they’re used to connect independent clauses. There are other ways to write this sentence, but the comma is necessary in this case. Simply keep in mind that two independent clauses (full sentences on their own) joined by one of the coordinating conjunctions (known as fanboys for their initial letters), require a comma.

    ————
    Sometimes Barky swims with Lily, because he loves her.

    Although this sentence could be confusing (you might consider suggesting that your client rewrite it), the comma is correct.

    Normally you would not use a comma before the word because in the middle of this kind of sentence. Because is a subordinating conjunction. When the clause containing the subordinating conjunction comes first in a sentence, a comma typically comes between the subordinate (or dependent) clause and the independent clause. When the subordinate clause comes second, we usually don’t separate them with commas. (There are exceptions. And this is one of them. Exceptions typically have to do with the inclusion of a non-essential clause.)

    So we might have these sentences—

    Because he wanted it, he reached for the toy.

    He reached for the toy because he wanted it.

    Yet in your example, readers could misread the sentence if the comma were missing.

    Sometimes Barky swims with Lily because he loves her could be read as Sometimes Barky swims with Lily because he loves her (and sometimes he swims with her because he doesn’t).

    I’m guessing this second meaning is not the one you or your client want. Switch the sentence around (and flip sometimes Barky to Barky sometimes) to get a better picture of the probable meaning—

    Because he loves her, Barky sometimes swims with Lily.

    This is the version I’d suggest for your client. Or try another option. This one works well—Omit the word sometimes. Without it, there is no confusion and no need for a comma.

    Barky swims with Lily because he loves her.

    Or try—

    Yet Barky will swim with Lily because he loves her.

    If there’s some reason you must keep the original sentence, use the comma to reduce the chance for confusion. But rewrite if doing so is a possibility.

    ————-
    Barky can’t ride a bicycle, because he doesn’t have fingers.

    As we saw with the second example, this construction doesn’t need a comma, so this is incorrect. The dependent clause comes second, so no comma is required. Do take out this comma.

    —————
    As for rules about commas with the word but . . . Perhaps you remember a rule about not including a comma with this kind of construction—

    I sing but don’t play an instrument.

    They loved cookies but hated broccoli.

    So we don’t need a comma before but all the time, but we do need one between independent clauses separated by but. And we typically include a comma with but not and but never constructions (think strong contrast). I can’t quote you the rule here, but if I find it, I’ll add it to this comment.

    He wanted to eat, but not until after four.

    She expected he’d give her the moon, but not before promising him him her firstborn.

    The youngest children, but not the oldest, got what they came for.

    He’d owned an Audi, a Ford, a Toyota, and a Mercedes, but never a Lincoln.

    We would also use a comma before but after a parenthetical or after the participial phrase in an absolute phrase—

    He grunted, sounding like a pig, but kept his hands to himself.
    ————–

    I hope this is helpful.

  86. Kenn Loewen says:

    How about comma usage with threads on Facebook. I know that they don’t follow conventional rules, but this has got me looking everywhere for an answer.
    “You saw him there too, right Roger?” Should there be a comma before Roger?

    • Kenn, there should be a comma before Roger, but the expectations for correct grammar and punctuation aren’t as high in the social networks and blog comments. Yet it’s certainly not difficult to include a comma.

      The famous example to show the necessity of correct comma placement in direct address is this—

      Let’s eat, Grandma.

      Let’s eat Grandma.

      It’s likely that Grandma would be pleased with the first suggestion and not at all pleased with the second.

  87. virginia says:

    how do I use commas in a list of quotes? As in:

    She was awarded “All-Star”, “Most Valuable”, and “All-District” in volleyball.

    Or is it:
    She was awarded “All-Star,” “Most Valuable,” and “All-District” in volleyball.

    Do the commas go inside the quotation marks or outside? Outside looks better.

    • Virginia, for American English, put commas (and periods) inside the quotation marks. For British English, put them outside unless they are part of the quotation itself.

      Most other punctuation (colon, semi colon, question marks) usually goes outside the quotation marks (there are exceptions) except when the punctuation mark is part of the quoted material.

      These odd ones deserve an article of their own. A great question. Thanks for asking it.

  88. How about “and” after “said” in dialog?
    “I love you,” he said and walked away.
    “I love you,” he said, and walked away.

    • Roger, there’s no need for a comma after said. We typically don’t separate, with a comma, two actions performed by the same subject.

      Yet dialogue is a writing element different from other text, and you could easily argue for a comma after said. Plenty of writers do include one, especially to create a certain sound or rhythm or to eliminate confusion about what’s happening. Either choice would be considered acceptable.

      A third choice is rewriting the sentence. Each of the following would also work—
      He said, “I love you,” and walked away.
      “I love you,” he said, walking away.
      “I love you,” he said. And then he walked away.

      Another great question.

  89. Vera says:

    Is the punctuation correct in this line?

    In His presence, soon, I’ll stand

    • Vera, I wouldn’t include the comma after soon. It’s an adverb and doesn’t require a comma. It’s probably the poetic feel that makes you want to include a comma there. You could just as easily say In his presence, I’ll soon stand.

  90. Ann M says:

    Where should the comma be placed in the following scenario–should there be a comma after “approval”? should there be one before “electronically”?

    “Once I receive approval I will file the following Zero Activity returns electronically:

    x
    y
    z

    ^the “Zero Activity” returns is describing the type–not neccessarily the title of the tax returns–should this be lower case?

    Thank you!

    • Yes, Ann, do include a comma after approval—a dependent clause before an independent one typically gets a comma.

      No comma before electronically; it’s simply an adverb.

      Yes, zero activity should be lower case. You could also hyphenate it as zero-activity returns. Yet if there’s little chance for confusion, a hyphen isn’t necessary. But in this case, might readers read zero as a number, as in zero returns? Definitely consider the hyphen here.

      Also, is this for fiction or something else? If it’s fiction dialogue, there’s no need to list the returns on their own lines. If a character says this, then the spoken words are written as sentences. If this is something else, then separating the items on the list is appropriate.

  91. Pat N says:

    “if you cannot reach me, you can contact my colleague, Sue Anne.”

    is this use of commas correct?

    • Pat, the first comma is correct, but the second is unnecessary.

      For the first, you’ve begun the sentence with a subordinating conjunction. Since the subordinate clause comes before the main clause, there’s a comma between them. If the clause order was different, there would be no comma.

      “You can contact my colleague Sue Anne if you cannot reach me.”

      For the second comma, since the assumption is that the speaker has multiple colleagues, the name is essential to identify which is being spoken about. While we set off nonessential elements with commas, we don’t set off essential elements with commas.

      “If you cannot reach me, you can contact my colleague Sue Anne.”

      If Sue Anne is the speaker’s personal assistant—the only personal assistant—then this would be correct—“If you cannot reach me, you can contact my PA, Sue Anne.”

      A few sentences to highlight the differences—

      I’m going to see Bob.

      I’m going to see my friend Bob. (multiple friends—the name Bob is essential to identify which friend)

      I’m going to see my best friend, Bob. (only one best friend—the name is nonessential since best friend already identifies who the speaker is going to see)

      My wife, Sally, is out of town. (only one wife, so again the name is nonessential)

      My wife Sally is out of town. (without a comma, this implies the speaker has more than one wife)

      The famous opera diva Carolina Reinhardt is performing tonight. (there are multiple famous opera divas, so the name is essential and gets no commas)

      But . . .

      Carolina Reinhardt, the famous opera diva, is performing tonight. (The phrase the famous opera diva is nonessential here because the name already identifies tonight’s performer. This format—name, comma, appositive (a renaming of the person in some way), comma, and the rest of the sentence—is common when a name comes first.)

      The most famous opera diva of all time, Carolina Reinhardt, is performing tonight. (there’s only one most famous diva of all time, so the name is nonessential)

      Lots more than you asked for, but I hope the info is helpful to others with similar questions.

  92. Tammy says:

    “Might we be dealing with a-little-bit-of-knowledge-is-dangerous situation here?”

    Is this hyphenated correctly?

    • Almost, Tammy. For what you have, the hyphens are correct. But you don’t have enough words.

      A little bit of knowledge is a unit, so you are right to link the words a and little with hyphens. But then you don’t actually have a determiner before that compound modifier. To see what I’m talking about, let’s change the sentence a bit.

      “Might we be dealing with a this-is-too-crazy-to-believe story?”

      “Is this one of those you’ve-got-to-see-it-to-believe-it moments?”

      “Is this a you’ve-got-to-see-it-to-believe-it moments?”

      “Is this your I’m-not-giving-up stare?”

      ————–

      Your sentence needs something before the compound modifier. Because a is the first word in the compound, it might seem that you don’t need another one, but the sentence needs a determiner (an article or a possessive or a number word, or a demonstrative). While the indefinite article a might have been a good choice, using the word a back to back is tough. So maybe something like—

      “Might we be dealing with some wacky a-little-bit-of-knowledge-is-dangerous situation here?”

      “Might we be dealing with one of your patented a-little-bit-of-knowledge-is-dangerous situations here?”

      ————

      I hope that makes sense. If not, let me know.

      And also, with long compound modifiers, you could choose to use italics rather than hyphens. It’s just another option. I don’t think your example is so long that it needs italics rather than the hyphens, but just so you know you have some choice.

  93. Yes, You Can Make Your Life Your Own.

    Is this correct?

    Thanks sooooo much!

  94. Rona says:

    Hello! I have been searching and cannot find the answer to this question about commas anywhere. I hope you can help! In the following types of sentences, should commas be inserted around the “and …” phrases”?

    1. There are many approaches to and purposes for language evaluations.
    2. I am interested in learning about and pursuing a career in medicine.

    Do the phrases “and purposes for” in the first sentence and “and pursuing a career in” in the second sentence need to be enclosed in commas?

    I look forward to hearing your response. Thank you!

    • Rona, the short answer is no. There’s no need for a comma in either sentence.

      The longer answer is that you could use commas if you were considering those phrases as asides or parentheticals or nonessential phrases.

      If approaches to and purposes for are equal—if you reversed the order and the new sentence said the same thing as the old—then don’t use commas.

      Same with the second sentence. If you’re merely listing two items the speaker is interested in—not saying the first and then adding the second in an aside—then no commas are necessary.

      I’m interested in books and movies.
      I’m interested in reading books and watching movies.
      I’m interested in reading about and watching movies.

      Each of these works as two items or activities the speaker is interested in. None of the sentences needs commas.

      Try putting the word both into the sentence.

      I’m interested in both books and movies.
      I’m interested in both reading books and watching movies.
      I’m interested in both reading about and watching movies.

      With the word both, you wouldn’t use a comma. Both indicates the two objects or activities have equal weight. With the word both, you could change the word order and the meaning would be the same.

      I’m interested in both movies and books.
      I’m interested in both watching movies and reading books.
      I’m interested in both watching and reading about movies.

      The case is different when the sentences have commas. You can’t use the word both and you can’t change the word order without changing the meaning. The words between the commas are a parenthetical, an addition to or an interruption of the rest of the sentence.

      I’m interested in reading about, and watching, movies.
      I’m interested in watching, and reading about, movies.

      So you wouldn’t use commas for two items on a list joined by and, but you would use them if you wanted to interrupt with an aside or parenthetical.

      A long way to go to get back to the short answer. Let me know if that didn’t make sense.

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