February 12, 2018

Common Comma Pitfalls

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Everyone understands comma basics. Commas are separators, weaker than periods. And they work within a single sentence.

But while comma basics are easy, comma gray areas are not. Would you put a comma before the book title in "We read the book Oliver Twist"? How about between the adjectives in "He saw a big scary mountain lion"? Do you need another comma in "The applied to Widgets, Inc. last week"? (Spoiler alert: Answers are probably not, probably not, and yes.)

Here's a more thorough look at some common comma pitfalls.


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And another thing about commas ...
Posted by June on February 12, 2018
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A missing comma after "Inc." or a year is a dead giveaway that a document wasn't professionally copy edited. I call this mistake commas without partners. And if you don't want to fall into this trap, here are a few additional points to keep in mind.

* You don't need to put commas around Inc., but if you put one before it, you should put one after it as well. RIGHT: The job at Widgets, Inc., didn't offer good benefits. RIGHT: The job at Widgets Inc. didn't offer good benefits. WRONG: The job at Widgets, Inc. didn't offer good benefits.

* Complete dates use commas around the year — meaning a comma before and after. RIGHT: May 8, 1996, was the day she arrived in town.

* When you're talking about just a month and a year without a specific date, no comma. RIGHT: August 2004 was an unusual time for me.

* Same applies to seasons. No comma when combing it with a year. And by the way, seasons are lowercase. RIGHT: In spring 2021 the town will host its centennial celebration.

* Jr. and Sr. work the same way as Inc. No commas needed, but if you use one before you have to use one after. RIGHT: Morton Downey Jr. had a talk show. RIGHT: Morton Downey, Jr., had a talk show. WRONG: Morton Downey, Jr. had a talk show.

In every case, it should go without saying that if the comma would come at the end of the sentence, you omit it and let the period mark the end. We worked at Widgets, Inc. We watched Morton Downey, Jr. He was born April 3, 1998.

June Casagrande is a writer and journalist whose weekly grammar/humor column, “A Word, Please,” appears in community newspapers in California, Florida, and Texas. more

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  • 'Whom' vs. 'Who' at the Beginning of a Sentence

    June A.S.: Everything you said is right, but I'm not sure which comment you're directing it at. Are you getting confused by passive voice as it comes into play in these sentences? "I called him" uses the object pronoun "him" because, as you said, is an object. When you invert that sentence to say "He was called," it's not the same sentence structure. In passive voice, the object of the action (so to speak) is made the grammatical subject of the sentence. So "He was called" does, as you said, required the subject pronoun "he." I don't believe anyone said anything to the contrary.

  • 'Whom' vs. 'Who' at the Beginning of a Sentence

    A.S. WRONG! If "Whom was called into the office" is a question then it's the equivalent of asking "Him was called into the office?" which is obviously wrong. If it's a statement it's still wrong. Look, it's not difficult: Me, him, her, them and whom are objects. I, he, she, they and who are subjects. If the person in the sample sentence is the object (as indicated by "whom") then the office must be the subject but there's no verb for the subject, so the person must be the subject and is therefore who. Understand?

  • E-mail vs. Email

    June Punctuation rules for American English are indeed "always" put the period or comma before the closing quote mark. British style is as you described (that is, it follows a certain logic). But American rules are rooted in a printing convention that originated from aesthetics concerns. I'm quite confident that this American convention will go the way of the dinosaur. Wikipedia is proof: Their style is situational in the way you described. But for now, it's the rule: The comma always goes "inside," as does a "period."

  • A Not-So-Thrilling Typo

    June Oops. Fixing now. (Better late than never.)

  • A Not-So-Thrilling Typo

    JR "An" Not-So-Thrilling Typo?