Punctuation Boot Camp II

Do you have questions about punctuation? (Most people do.) Find answers here!

(This is a follow-up page to Punctuation Boot Camp I.)

1.  Is it true that you’re supposed to use a comma after a person’s name?

No! Sometimes the comma is needed, and sometimes it’s wrong. Forget about this “rule”–it doesn’t work. Use a comma with a name only when you have a Comma Rule 3 sentence:

Santa Claus, who lives at the North Pole, brings joy to children every December.  COMMA RULE 3

Santa Claus lives at the North Pole.   NO COMMA

2.  I don’t understand how something really short like “she does” can be a sentence.

Interesting problem! This is where you have to start thinking like a writer.

In the real world, you would be confused if someone walked up to you and said, “She does.” Who the heck is “she,” and what does she do? It doesn’t make any sense. How can that be a sentence?

But let’s try looking at She does the way a writer would. She does starts with a person: She. So it’s a sentence. (If it started with another word, it would be an extra idea: When she does.)

You’re thinking I must be crazy, right? Bear with me (and remember to think like a writer). Suppose you were writing a short story about a woman named Evelina. None of the women in her family – her mother, grandmother, aunts, sisters – like to cook. Evelina does.

So let’s put an extra idea in front of “she does” and see what happens:

Although none of the other women in her family like to cook, she does.  COMMA RULE 1

I’ll be the first to admit that these teeny sentences look weird: I go. Harry must do it. It is rusty. But they’re all sentences, and you can easily see that when you stick extra ideas in front of them:

When everyone else is too busy to take the packages to the post office, I go. COMMA RULE 1

Since Bill isn’t here to answer the phone, Harry must do it. COMMA RULE 1

Because the bicycle was left out in the rain, it is rusty. COMMA RULE 1

3.  Does the “Use a period” rule still apply if the sentence is very short?

Yes. Suppose you wrote this sentence: Carl doesn’t like broccoli. Obviously it has to end with a period.

Now suppose you added a very short sentence: She does. Now you have two sentences, and you need two periods.

Carl doesn’t like broccoli. She does.

Ending a sentence with a comma is a serious error. (Remember, you’re learning to think like a writer!) English teachers call this mistake a “comma splice” or a “run-on” or a “run-together sentence.” No matter what label you use, it’s a serious mistake.

4.  What if a sentence starts with “it”?

The “Use a period” rule still applies. Let’s use our “Carl doesn’t like broccoli” sentence again. We’re going to follow it with a sentence starting with “it”:

Carl doesn’t like broccoli. It disgusts him.

“It” is such a short and common word that people forget how important it is. Here’s a rule of thumb: “If it starts with it, it’s a sentence.”

5.  Can a sentence ever end with a comma?

Here’s where Comma Rule 2 comes in handy. If you gave me 100 sentences ending with commas, I could almost always tell you what the next word was. How is that possible? The answer is that only seven words in the English language can be used to join two sentences with a comma: The FANBOYS words (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so).

Take a look:

Mary went to the library,

Sam is in love with Clare,

The doorbell rang,

You can pay with a check,

Here are the finished sentences:

Mary went to the library, and she’ll be back in an hour.  COMMA RULE 2

Sam is in love with Clare, but she doesn’t like him.   COMMA RULE 2

The doorbell rang, so I got up to answer it.  COMMA RULE 2

You can pay with a check, or you can use a credit card.  COMMA RULE 2

There’s one other way to end a sentence with a comma – by using Comma Rule 3:

Mary went to the library, which is open until nine tonight.   COMMA RULE 3

Sam is in love with Clare, who’s not interested in him.   COMMA RULE 3

The doorbell rang, startling the dog.  COMMA RULE 3

You can pay with a check, as long as you show us two forms of identification.   COMMA RULE 3

So here’s a guideline for you. If you end a sentence with a comma, you need to be using Comma Rule 2 or Comma Rule 3. Otherwise, change the comma to a period. Remember:

Extra ideas end with commas.

Sentences end with periods.

6.  It looks as if the three Comma Rules cover just about every kind of sentence. Is that right?

Yes!

 

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