Posted by: nancycurteman | August 24, 2017

The Comma Conundrum

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 Most authors suffer from a condition I call Comma Conundrum. Symptoms of this ailment are basically three: Authors
1. add too many commas in their writing pieces.
2. add too few commas in their writing pieces.
3. add commas in the wrong places in their writing pieces.

Oscar Wilde described the Comma Conundrum well when he wrote:

“I have spent most of the day putting in a comma and the rest of the day taking it out.”

We all agree that commas are useful grammatical tools that help to keep our intended meanings clear. However, when commas are misused they can chop up sentences (overuse) or misinform meaning (under use) causing confusion, irritation and frustration to readers.

Overuse of commas is the most common symptom of Comma Conundrum. Using too many commas results in stilted, disjointed sentences. However, under use can result in serious misunderstandings as well. Consider this common example:
Let’s eat kids! vs. Let’s eat, kids!
Please, we are not cannibals.

Is there a cure for Comma Conundrum? Yes, but for most fiction writers it is not simple. Fiction writers tend to operate in the creative realm whereas grammarians may find it easier to commit complex rules to memory. Here is the solution most often offered. Just follow the grammatical rules. Easier said than done because many of these rules are somewhat complex filled with terms like coordinating conjunctions, independent clauses, appositives and dependent clauses. Yes, we all learned comma rules in school but when you’re in the middle of creating an exciting scene in your novel, you may not easily call to memory some of these rules.

Then what’s a workable solution. I can only suggest my method. I keep a list of  comma rules, along with their exceptions, in my writing folder. I consult it whenever there is the slightest doubt in my mind about a comma placement. You can find a multitude of sites about comma rules on the internet. Here is a link to the one I use. 13 Rules For Using Commas Without Looking Like An Idiot.

Try it. Maybe it will work for you.

More tips:
7 Ways to Make Your Writing Clear and Concise
6 Most Misused Punctuation Marks In Fiction Writing


  1. Thank you Nancy. I needed this. Love the name of your newest book.


    • Hi Evelyn, Glad it helped. I have to review the rules all the time


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