Good punctuation can save lives!
Inviting Grandma to lunch, and eating Grandma for lunch, are very different activities. We all know that commas are important, but when are there enough and when are there too many?
Over the next several posts, I will discuss the most common uses (and misuses) of commas. Hopefully, these bread crumbs will point you in the right direction.
INDEPENDENT CLAUSES and the dreaded COMMA SPLICES
All clauses have a subject and a verb. That's what makes them different from phrases. However, some clauses make a complete sentence and some do not.
An independent clause makes a complete sentence and can stand alone.
Amy reads. [correct]
A dependent clause does not make a complete thought and must be joined with an independent clause to make a sentence. A dependent clause standing alone is INCORRECT and is called a sentence fragment.
Because Amy reads. [not correct]
The word "because" is one example of a marker used to begin a dependent clause. Here are a few more examples of dependent clause markers: if, then, after, before, until, whenever.
When two independent clauses are joined to make a more complex sentence, they are joined with a semi-colon or with a comma and conjunction (e.g., and, or, but, yet). If the sentence is too long, consider rewriting it as two sentences.
Amy reads; her favorite genre is science fiction romance. [correct]
Amy reads, and her favorite genre is science fiction romance. [correct]
Amy reads, her favorite genre is science fiction romance. [not correct]
Amy reads every day when she gets home from work. Her favorite genre is science fiction romance. [correct]
Two independent clauses joined with a comma is INCORRECT and is called a comma splice.
When joining a dependent clause with a conjunction, do NOT add a comma.
Amy reads because she enjoys science fiction romance stories. [correct]
Amy reads, but she also enjoys science fiction romance movies. [correct]
Amy reads, and enjoys science fiction romance stories. [not correct]
People, no matter what planet they are from, seldom speak only in complete sentences. So, sentence fragments in dialogue are fine; they sound more realistic and often show a character's personality. Occasionally, in fiction, sentence fragments are acceptable to control the pacing of a scene. Fragments, short sentences, and short paragraphs quicken the pace of your story.
"How does Amy know so much about life?" he asked.
"Because Amy reads!"
Thanks for reading this. In the next post, I'll try to explain why "I went to see J.J. Abrams' latest movie, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, with my oldest friend, Jimbo." is correctly punctuated, but "I went to see the movie, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, with my friend, Jimbo." is not.