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Where Do I Use Commas?

Are you a comma-kaze? Do you use commas like confetti? Don’t use a comma everywhere you would pause when speaking. Check out the rules.

By
Mignon Fogarty
Episode #356

 

Last week Dale Seiler on Twitter sent me a screenshot of a Garmin ad that had a strange and unnecessary comma in the middle of the tagline. It reads “Today’s record, is tomorrow’s motivation,” and that comma violates one of the hard-and-fast comma rules: never put a comma between a subject and its verb.*

Commas: Are There Firm Rules or Just Guidelines?

Commas have a lot of different uses, and that’s part of what makes them confusing. Another thing that makes them confusing is that some things are hard-and-fast rules—like don’t put a comma between a subject and a verb—and other things are more like guidelines, as Jack Sparrow says of the pirate code in Pirates of the Caribbean.

The “rules” about serial commas are an example of such guidelines. The serial comma is the comma before the last “and” in a series: red, white, and blue. That last comma before the “and” is called a serial comma, Oxford comma, or Harvard comma. Some people say to always use it and other people say to only use it when leaving it out would cause confusion. It’s a style choice.

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Don’t Put a Comma Between a Subject and Its Verb

But the Garmin ad violates a hard-and-fast rule, not a guideline.

My guess is that one of two things is going on. Either the people working on the ad believe you should put a comma anywhere you would pause when you are speaking, or the tagline was originally something like “Today’s record, tomorrow’s motivation”—without the “is,” which would be correct—and then they put in the verb later, and everyone forgot to take out the comma. (I make most of my mistakes when I’ve been rewriting a sentence to death and overlook some preposition or punctuation mark left behind from a previous version, so it wouldn’t surprise me if that happened with the ad.)

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About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network and creator of Grammar Girl, which has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 best websites for writers multiple times. The Grammar Girl podcast has also won Best Education Podcast multiple times in the Podcast Awards, and Mignon is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame. Mignon is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" and six other books on writing. She has appeared as a guest on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and the "Today Show" and has been featured in the New York Times, Business Week, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN.com, and more. She was previously the chair of media entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno, NV. She hates the phrase "grammar nazi" and loves the word "kerfuffle." She has a B.A. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle and an M.S. in biology from Stanford University. Mignon believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. 

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