Writing Tips: Confusing Commas


It can be difficult to know where to place commas in a sentence. For instance, you should insert a comma between two separate phrases within a sentence. Without the comma in the sentence below, the line would read as if the door opened both “a crack and a bright blue eye”:

The door opened a crack, and a bright blue eye appeared above the chain.

Use commas before coordinating conjunctions such as “since” or “because”:

But I guessed I could handle seeing Art, since I was now completely hooked on Jack.

Here is a longer sentence in which I’m using commas to separate various actions:

He opened the lower partition of the doorway, hustled me through, closed it, then shut the top half and locked the bolt.

Use a comma at the end of a line of dialogue when you are adding a speech tag (such as “I said”):

“I’ll keep that in mind,” I said, smiling back at him.

Use serial commas to separate more than one item in a list (including a comma before the next-to-last item):

Sammy swept his arm toward a couch and chairs grouped around a long glass-topped coffee table covered with empty bottles, shot glasses, newspapers, and overflowing ashtrays.

Have a question about writing? Comment or email me at leslie@lesliewellsbooks.com

Leslie Wells has edited forty-nine New York Times bestsellers in her thirty-year publishing career. She is the author of Come Dancing, a novel about publishing and rock and roll, set in New York City in the 1980s. Visit her at www.lesliewellsbooks.com







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