Melanie Spiller & Coloratura Consulting
A Tonic for Ramshackle Wordsmiths
Copyright Melanie Spiller 2011. Do not copy without permission.
Comma Comments, Part 2

Last time, I wrote about comma splices, subordinate clauses, prepositional phrases, series commas, and non-restrictive clauses. That’s all the hard stuff. Here are the easy comma uses.


Use a comma to separate place names, even if there is no pause when reading aloud.


The US center for fiction publishing is in NY, NY.

The brilliant editor lived in San Francisco, California.


Use a comma to separate the parts of a date.


Their anniversary was January 27, 1952.

On May 8, 2004, the San Francisco Bach Choir performed Thomas Tallis’ forty-voice “Spem in Allium.”


If there are three or more adjectives preceding a noun, use commas to separate them. This forces as slight pause, and helps you link together the aspects that need linking most. Place the most critical aspect of description immediately before the noun with no preceding comma.


The elegant, hard-bound, expensive book sat on the desk.

The hard-bound, expensive, elegant book sat on the desk.

The expensive, elegant, hard-bound book sat on the desk.


Use commas to set aside important parenthetical information. The sentence must remain grammatically intact if you remove the comma-offset portion.


After Thursday, when we went to the beach, the dog and I had a bond.


That sentence could just as easily say the same thing without the comma-offset portion.


After Thursday, the dog and I had a bond.

Use a comma to offset a direct quote.


She cried, “Hallelujah! The dinner has arrived!”


Do not offset indirect quotations with commas.


She called to us that the dinner had arrived.


Offset an adverbial clause with commas. One caveat: these adverbial clauses are often caveat words (see my blog article “Editorial Pet Peeves”), and I cheerfully remove them when I’m editing.


Plainly, the dog had tracked the mud onto the carpet.

Fervently, he wished her good luck.

Thus, the document was finalized.


You don’t always need a comma when you have a conjunction. It depends on how long the various clauses are and whether the comma contributes clarity.


Either shoot pool or go home.

The smallest mistake can cause your program to fail, or it might return an error message.


He did a little of this and that on his vacation.

The potato salad had long been devoured, and the tortilla chip fragments lay ignobly near the relics of the vegetables and dip.


Everyone received a gift but Thomas.

He thought she’d gone, but she was there when he turned around.


I’ve probably managed to leave out some uses for commas, but I think you get my point. I heartily recommend that you play with commas as you edit your work, because they change the focus your sentence and contribute to clarity.