Common Comma Problems

We all have those things we hate doing: snaking the bath tub drain, adulting, dealing with commas.

I deal with them so much while freelance editing that I have a macro for a comment box with “Comma” all ready to go. True Story.

Here are the four most common places I’m marking “Comma” in Dev/Copy Edits:

(all examples below hail from my #WIP Rallied, lucky you!)

1. After an Introductory Clause

To start at the beginning, we need a comma after those first opening words:

However / First / Well / Basically / Yeah / Finally / Still / (Exclamatory Curse/NonCurse Word)

Once upon a time, he knew exactly how to handle a girl like that.

Basically, yeah, but you’re missing the point already, dude.

God, when did he become this guy again?

“He’s not a hipster. Well, he is, but to be precise, he’s a lumbersexual,” Richard said, steadily slicing onions.

However, Tommy hadn’t sworn anything.

She’d been totally and completely real. And still, Tommy didn’t trust her.

A good way to check for this is by reading your stories OUT LOUD. And act like you're Jeff Goldblum.

Listen to where you’re pausing at the beginning of your sentences – where those first clauses come to a stopping point. If you’re pausing, look and see whether you need a comma.

2. Before a name

This is a big one. Most commonly found in dialogue, but occasionally in direct internal address.

  • We need a comma before (and after) we say a person’s name. Like, to their face.

The lumberjack that’s been glued to your ass, Evan.

Jesus Christ, Evan. How many times do you need to be told it wasn’t your fault?

I loved him, more than anything, but he is gone, Evan, and he’s not coming back.

I’m telling you, Tommy, you need to talk to her. Something’s up.

  • We also need them in internal address:

You’re thirty, Tommy. Thirty years old and this is where you’ve ended up. Good job, dude.

  • The comma before a name applies not only to proper nouns, but nicknames that are acting as the person’s name:

“Come on, dude,” Evan said, inviting him with a curl of her finger that was as enticing as she could make it.

"Let it go, man. You’re in a place that has nothing but time, and ain’t nobody got time for that."

“Hey, man. You want a beer?”

Without that comma, we are using that person’s name in a manner that no longer makes logical sense.