Tag Archives: Style guide

The Terrible Cries of the Traumatized Comma


The Terrible Cries of the Traumatized Comma

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The traumatized comma

Probably the MOST maligned punctuation mark in the history of the English language, the comma has been abused, misused, kicked, neglected, and otherwise dealt terrible damage to. And yet it is not a mob [game talk for the enemy in battle], but a veritable fount of helpfulness and aid to breath-saving. Yes, breath-saving. Without commas, we would have to talk non-stop, racing until we reach the period before we can take a breath. And yet, the comma is the hardest working punctuation mark YOU’ll ever see.

I’m not going to go into all the uses of the comma right now because there are too many of them. However, I’ll take a few so that you can start today to save the comma from all this abuse.


No, I am not talking about the next exciting adventure of the Sopranos on TV nor your electrical wiring setup. I’m talking about words and using them in series. Always use commas to separate a list of things in a sentence, such as: I love to eat hot dogs, corn bread, and liver and onions.

In the above example, the comma sets off the items in the list. In modern usage, the comma before the first “and” is optional. You could have written…corn bread and liver and onions.” However, in this instance, it makes the meaning clearer to have the comma before the “and.” This example also illustrates when you do NOT put a comma before the second “and” –i.e. this second “and” (which, by the way is called a conjunction because its only purpose in life is to join words)–when the item referred to is a unit, i.e. liver and onions is a unit.

You can also have a series of phrases, and even full-fledged sentences, which, again, are separated by commas to keep the meaning clear. (Note: In some cases, you get the shy semi-colon (;) which can be used to keep the phrases or sentences separated–however, the semi-colon is not as hard-working as the comma, so we will deal with this miscreant at arm’s length–and mercilessly–in another chamber.)

 My favorite pastimes are playing MMORPGs, walking in the park, and rollerblading with my friends.

 Once you get the hang of punctuation, you can use commas like a pro, you can create masterpieces of sizzling dialogue, and you can dazzle your readers with your unique style.

 Okay, how about a series of adjectives that modify the same noun?  The rule is…if you can replace the comma with an “and,” then you put in a comma, eg: The sly and evil rogue backstabbed his way to success. This is therefore eligible for commatization (made-up word alert!), thusly: The sly, evil rogue backstabbed his way to success.

If, however, you can’t replace a supposed comma with “and,” then you leave the comma out, eg: The cloak cost 50 gold pieces at the tavern. You cannot insert “and” between “50” and “gold.” Therefore, no comma.

After thinking of ALL the uses of the comma, I decided not to go any further here, because I can already hear the bodies hitting the floor as they drop from boredom. However, the comma is probably the most important punctuation mark (perhaps excepting only the period) in the English language.

Super Comma getting ready to work her magic powers.

Therefore, for homework (no no no, I musn’t use that term)…um…for a special excursion into the wonderful world of the superhero COMMA (not to be confused with COMA), please run through the above list of very helpful hints on when to use the comma. Don’t let the names of the word parts bother you any more than you let the names of the different ways to slay your enemies in your favorite MMO bother you. I’m sure you recognize the result, if not the names they are called…remember them. They just may save your dying prose some day.  

If you have any questions about commas, please don’t suffer in silence…put them in a comment below or email me at raya at fantasyfic dot com.



Welcome to Raya’s Dungeon

Chamber 01 – Part 1

Raya’s Pleasure Palace of Perfect Punctuation
Positioning Pathetic Parenthetical Phrases Properly


Two pathetic participles waiting to dangle.

Ever see a naked parenthesis? A dangling participle? A traumatized comma? All of these shocking items will be exposed in….RAYA’S DUNGEON GEON geon

Okay, cheesie – but it got your attention…otherwise most people won’t come within ten feet of grammar and punctuation guidelines….AHAH! caught you yawning already!

 I am only gonna deal with one item today…one that I see a lot of writers having trouble with…mostly because I think some of you don’t understand some of the principles behind grammar and/or punctuation. (Or maybe your English teacher was a witch who gave broomsticks a bad name.)  


The branches of a lone Joshua tree enclosing and separating a part of the moody sky from the rest of the prairie wilderness.

Everyone knows what parentheses are ( ) – those are parentheses. They are used to enclose and separate, modify without being obtrusive, keep the flow and provide additional information; oh, and yeah, to make smiley faces.

There are also other means of creating parenthetical phrases:
– with the double dash
–like this–
– and with ellipses
like this(please note there are ONLY three dots in the ellipse and no spaces on either side)
– a final and very acceptable way is with commas, like this, see?

It is almost like coding. If you start a parenthetical phrase with one of its codes, you must end it with that same code. Thus, if you are wise, you will remember to open and close your parenthetical phrase. The codes, in this case, are either the parentheses ( ), the em dash or double dash (–), the ellipse (…), and the comma (,).

What is a parenthetical phrase? And why should I care? Basically a parenthetical phrase is a modifier…a phrase that increases understanding of whatever it is referring to. How do you know it’s a parenthetical phrase? Because, if you take it away from the sentence, the sentence will still stand on its own. And you should care because I said so and will toss you into the deepest…er…because a parenthetical phrase enriches your writing and is a tool to help you create your own unique style.

Polly, wanting a cracker, started to sing. The parenthetical phrase there (in italics) could be removed and the sentence, although not as rich as with the parenthetical phrase, would still stand alone. You can see that you could substitute any of the other parenthetical signifiers.

"No more singing. Gimme the damn cracker."

Polly (wanting a cracker) started to sing. Doesn’t look as good though. Using parentheses for parenthetical phrases makes it seem like you don’t really want to come right out and say it. It gives the appearance of being shy…and sometimes disorganized. Which is good, if that is the energy you want to portray, right?

Polly–wanting a cracker–started to sing. Yeah, it works, but I still prefer commas. This style is a little more abrupt and intrusive.

Polly…wanting a cracker…started to sing. Sounds like a James T. Kirk speech, but it works, better than the other two anyhow, and almost as good as the commas. Shows more hesitancy or pauses before and after the parenthetical phrase.

Which style of parenthetical phrase you use depends on the mood you are trying to convey in your writing. Keep in mind that, whichever set of parenthetical signifiers you use, you don’t have to use any others at that point, i.e. you don’t need to use parentheses AND commas…one set of signifiers will be enough. Otherwise you are mixing your code up.

I urge writers to start experimenting. One of the things you are gonna work up is your own unique style. I mostly use commas and ellipses (…) – and that is part of my style. A crisper style might use commas or the double dash (–), and the more scientific style might use the parentheses ( ). Experiment and see which suits you and which suits the mood of the piece you are writing.