Comma chameleon – How commas can change the shape of a sentence

Did you know that Australian author Peter Carey won the 2001 Booker Prize for True History of the Kelly Gang – a work that contained not a single comma? Amazing, huh? Of course, one might wonder why he bothered, but still. And, whilst you may not be writing anything within coo-ee of such a magnum opus yourself, it’s still a good idea to know how useful those little black squiggles can be in getting your business messages across more clearly.

Separate a series

Use a comma to make a clear distinction between three or more words, phrases or clauses written in a series. Delilah threatened to cut off Samson’s hair, wrap it round a stone, and hurl it out the window.

And, but, for, or, nor, so, yet

Follow an independent clause with any of the words above and make sure to whack a comma in beforehand. Everyone thought the ghost train was lame, but I was scared witless.

Non-essential bits

Pop in a comma before and after any word, phrase or clause that isn’t going to destroy the sentence if it wasn’t there. For those of you who know me, and almost all of you do, my business success will come as no surprise.

After an introductory clause

Use a comma after an introductory clause and before the main clause. It kind of helps set the scene. While I was making a withdrawal at the bank, the teller fainted clean across the counter.

Writing dialogue

Whenever you’re including dialogue in your writing, be sure to include a comma before the beginning or at the end of the spoken sentence. Elvira said, ‘Hey! Who wants to go to the mall?’ ‘Count me in,’ I replied.

For contrast

When you want to make clear that there are two sides to something, a comma is a handy thing. That’s my business, not yours.

Let me introduce…

If your sentence begins with an introductory word such as well, now or yes, for example, then a comma makes the sentence flow. Well, it wasn’t really my fault, Officer. Or Yes, leaving that roller skate at the bottom of the stairs was definitely a bad idea.

For help with copywriting, proofreading or editing any of your business documents, contact Proof Communications on 02 8036 5532 or 0411 123 216 or head to the contact page.

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