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A comma is a delicate kink in time, a pause within a sentence, a chance to catch your breath (Karen Elizabeth Gordon in The New Well-Tempered Sentence, p. 21).

However, not all of us catch our breaths at the same time, so inserting commas whenever you feel inclined to pause may not always be accurate. Pay attention to Gordon’s italicized sentences in this section for both titillating and innocent sentences that will help the comma guidelines stick!

Use the examples below to learn more.

Items in a Series

--The rest of the story can be figured out by gossip, slander, and false report.
--He looked at her face, her thighs, her hands for some sign of approbation, but everything about her was glancing away in the direction of something he could not name or escape.
--He is walking up walls, crawling sideways, and turning somersaults as he approaches the queen.

Lengthy Introductory Material or Short Introductory Material of Significance

--However, Bertrand's instincts concerning the medicinal uses of chrysanthemums had never failed us yet.
--After these inclement outbursts, he sends tulips, charwomen, and folding chairs.
--As far as I'm concerned, all phone calls are obscene.
--Once we have these mastodons under control, we'll bring on the incense and the priests.
--Formalities having been dispensed with, we got down to some low-class pizza.

Nonessential Information and/or Words that Interrupt the Flow of Thought

--Raymond, who usually wears overalls, showed up in a green kimono.
--The green kimono, which normally fell to his knees, flapped flagrantly in the stirring heat.
--The final act of the play, which was unevenly hilarious, took place on a drifting barge.
--Those spurs, I must say, are a provocative addition to your wardrobe.

NOTE: To figure out whether or not information is essential, remove the information from the sentence and observe the effect. Nonessential information can be lifted from a sentence without significantly changing its meaning.

Nonessential Closing Material

--We never arrived , which upset a bunch of excitable, expectant aunts and uncles.
--I was wasted
, having paced the floorboards twenty nights in a row.
--He set out heartbrokenly for the receding border, not being able to count on safety in his homeland.

Two or More Clauses Joined by Coordinating Conjunctions

-- Clauses are complete sentences.
-- The coordinating conjunctions are For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So (also known as FANBOYS).

--The suspect removed his grimy white gloves
, but another pair lurked beneath.
--The left-handed members of the board were banging their soup spoons
, and the agenda was engulfed by their roars.
--I haven’t done it yet, so I don’t think I could do it again.
--He told her he belonged to another, yet his pajamas clung to her tights.

A Person Spoken to in Direct Address

--Come here, Nicholas, and hold my mouth shut with your big, spring-loaded hands.
--We'll have more than rhetorical and ontological questions, young lady, when we get to your whereabouts last night.

Two Adjectives that Modify the Same Noun if and Can Be Inserted Between Them Without Changing the Meaning

--She greeted him with open, entrenching arms
--He wanted to eat her peachy, creamy complexion with his souvenir spoon from Yellowstone Park.

Elements Within Addresses

--Nimbo Moostracht, Vice President, Eurobanque, 28 Rue Des Ecouffes, 75004, Paris, France.
--I flew my horse from Morski, Louvelandia, to Southpaw, Califonica, in five nights of shooting stars.

Dates Including the Day of the Month Next to the Year

--I was born on March 17, 1947, on a cold bed of river sand.
--She came out of the forest on May 7, 1956, to take her place among her fellow femmes fatales.

Direct Quotations

-- “I’ve been wondering, Jasmine,” said Jimmy shyly, “if you’d care to sit out this tango in my lap.”
-- As he usually did when entering a strange room or arrangement, he thought fondly and desperately of his motto, “Be cool,” which never did him any good.

-- Work Cited:
Gordon, Karen Elizabeth. The New Well-Tempered Sentence. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1993.


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