On the internet, my persona is “Vocab Gal” and my brother’s is “Mr. GovLoop,” which leads one to the idea that our parents instilled in us a love of words and the feds, which is rather true. My mother and I are both teachers, and my brother and father both government men (my father worked for the IRS –feel free to check out his Govloop blog here).
Today I’m excited to begin a series of blog posts on improving the most basic aspects of communication in the government- correct comma usage, precise wording, proper grammar, quick revisions-all the nuances of writing that will make you appear on paper/computer screen as awesome as you are in person. As a humble request, I would appreciate your sharing my vocabgal.com blog address with your favorite teachers-whether they be relatives, friends or your children’s educators (K through college). It’s a totally free resource for teachers, and I’m trying to get the word out.
So today’s subject is the comma –a little mark that can be quite frustrating in terms of when and where to apply properly. I have three easy rules to cut through all your grammar confusion so that you too can rock the comma!
(Note: I’m assuming that readers know the “items in a series” rule: when you are listing items out in a series of 3 or more, each item is separated by a comma. These three rules are to help with the more confusing aspects of the comma).
Rule #1: If a sentence starts with one of these words, after, although, as, because, before, by, even, if, now that, once, since, though, unless, when, while, place a comma after the initial phrase:
Example: Because John forgot to set his alarm last night, he missed the Metro again.
(introductory phrase that starts with ‘because), full sentence.
1) As soon as Sarah heard the news she told Steve.
2) When Huxley jumped in the car he wanted to drive.
3) While not everyone likes meetings we certainly do!
4) I like to eat apples and bananas.
*I bet you got all those right; all but #4 needed a comma after the introductory phrase, because it started with one of the words I just told you. Way to follow the rule-isn’t this easy?
Rule #2: If there is a full sentence that can STAND ALONE to the left of the word and/or/for/so/yet/but/because AND to the right of the and/or/for/so/yet…, there should be a comma.
John forgot to set his alarm last night, so he missed the Metro again.
(full sentence that could stand alone) (full sentence that could stand alone)
5) Steve loves playing golf but Sarah can barely swing a club.
6) Sarah loves eating chocolate chip cookies and Chad loves buying them for her.
7) Rowan, Simon, and Hux all love writing reports and reading flowcharts.
*Again, the first two sentences need commas, the third does not. I find rule #2 the most “aha moment”, because for years I would always be afraid that if there was an “and” there should be a comma. Now I know; if there is a full sentence to the left AND right of the “and”, it gets a comma –otherwise, don’t do it (back away excessive comma users)!
Rule #3: If the information isn’t needed in the sentence, put commas around it.
John, who is on the verge of work suspension, missed the Metro again.
Independent, (nonessential information), sentence
John missed the Metro again this morning, as he does most mornings.
Independent sentence, (nonessential information)
FIX any that need fixing:
8) Mr. Hering a wise and benevolent boss postponed the meeting
9) Ms. Ressler’s desk a large wooden behemoth remains a tribute to the previous generation of managers before her.
10) I really needed to write up that cost analysis I started last Friday in order to receive a raise.
*Numbers 8 and 9 need commas; number 10 is a little tricky, but because we need to know which cost analysis you are writing up, there are no commas used.
Try out all the rules together:
11) While I enjoy salsa dancing I prefer Latin Fusion a class that plays 70% hip hop.
12) When Mr. Hering and Ms. Ressler both great managers went to Philadelphia they enjoyed meeting new colleagues and attending sessions.
13) Mr. Hering bakes fabulous bread of both oat and raisin varieties and he loves to share it with his neighbors.
14) Ms. Ressler likes to read research reports but she really loves to ponder her greatness as a manager and her love of the federal government.
11) While I enjoy salsa dancing, (Rule 1) I prefer Latin Fusion, (Rule 3) a class that plays 70% hip hop.
12) When Mr. Hering and Ms. Ressler, (Rule 3)both great managers (Rule 3), went to Philadelphia, (Rule 1) they enjoyed meeting new colleagues and attending sessions.
13) Mr. Hering bakes fabulous bread, (Rule 3) of both oat and raisin varieties (Rule 3), (Rule 2) and he loves to share it with his neighbors.
14) Ms. Ressler likes to read research reports, (Rule 2) but she really loves to ponder her greatness as a manager and her love of the federal government.
Hope that solves your comma quandaries; look forward to my next post that explains the semi-colon in one easy rule!
P.S. Check out my latest blog: How I Roll with Semicolons