OK, folks — listen up! There are at least a gazillion comma rules in American grammar and probably in all other grammar systems, but we don’t have to learn every single dratted one. Really. We don’t.
We do, however, have to be familiar and comfortable with the basics — not just the rules themselves, but how to use them.
When I’m teaching my “Brush Up on Your American Grammar Skills” corporate workshops, I show how to spot a need for punctuation, and I keep it brief. For instance, we only talk about five major comma rules, three colon rules, and three semicolon rules. But if we can learn those rules, we’ve made progress.
These are two or more independent clauses (complete sentences that have a subject and a predicate) that are joined by a comma and one of the seven coordinating conjunctions: and, but, for, nor, or, so, yet (the acronym FANBOYS contains all seven words for an easy way to remember them).
John likes to play soccer, but Fred prefers to play baseball.
Amy set the table, and I organized the seating plan.
Bob wanted to see the early movie, so we left the house at noon.
Each example shows two sentences that could be written separately and ended with a period. But when we only write very short sentences, we look as though we never got past second or third grade, which is not the best impression for a professional to give. Creating compound sentences allows us to create longer sentences, which make us look much smarter.
John likes to play soccer, Fred prefers to play baseball.
Amy set the table, I organized the seating plan.
Bob wanted to see the early movie, we left the house at noon.
What we cannot do is just put a comma between them as you can see above; that’s called the “comma splice.”
So no more writing “Ann loves coffee, Dick prefers tea.” OK? Figure out which of the seven words works, and drop it in. Or, if you must, write each sentence as a separate one with an end mark of punctuation.
And the comma ALWAYS goes where the end mark of the first sentence would have been. Just replace one for one.
Next week, I’ll show you how to use semicolons in compound sentences, but for now, take a look at what you’re writing and see if you’re writing your compound sentences according to this comma rule.