• Mary Finch

Why Didn't Anyone Tell Me This About Commas?!

My senior year of undergrad, earning my English degree, in my senior English seminar, our professor looked as us in disgust.

"Why don't any of you know how to use commas?!?"

We hung our heads in shame. We were about to graduate, and our final papers were rife with commas errors. Worse? Some of us were earning teaching degrees! How were we going to go teach the next generation when we couldn't follow the most basic of grammar rules ourselves?

After a moment of frustration and disappointment though, the professor turned around and wrote three rules on the blackboard. And I have never struggled with commas since.

She wrote:

Use a comma in these three situations:

  1. In a list. Example: Shakespeare uses scansion, meter, and rhyme in his writing.

  2. In between two independent clauses with a conjunction. Example: Shakespeare uses scansion, meter, and rhyme in his writing, and high schools students hate him for it.

  3. Around parenthetical information. Example: Shakespeare, of Romeo and Juliet fame, uses scansion, meter, and rhyme in his writing, and high schools students hate him for it.

And that's it.

Sitting in that senior English seminar, I was stunned. There was a method to the comma madness. Why had no one told me this in my 16 years of schooling?!

I'll go into more detail about these three situations in upcoming blog posts, but you don't need to be scared of commas anymore! There is a rhyme and a reason to how you use them, and it only takes learning three rules to be rid of comma anxiety.

And of course, if you still feel intimidated and want someone to double check your commas, just let me know.

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