Comma Drama

coorelative conjunction,
restrictive clause,
nonessential appositives

So. You slept through English class. Starting when you were nine. Or you aced all your grammar tests and promptly forgot everything you learned. Or you’re a writer and while you’re writing all the commas and everything else is just part of a flow of creative semi-consciousness lost in your process which doesn’t bother with anything as objective as where a comma goes or which its to use.

But as an author, you have to deal with the reality of not having a damn clue what to do with a comma.


I finally achieved pith!  Srsly, it’s time for all of us to stop whining and do this thing. I like Grammarly. GRAMMARLYSNIP

Grammarians have their own jargon, and learning all of that as well as a bunch of rules …. do you have time? I don’t. But we do need to take a couple of hours and just do this thing. We don’t need to memorize all those terms. We do need to know how things work and why.

Here’s an excerpt from the Grammarly Blog:

Comma Between Correlative Conjunctions

Correlative conjunctions are conjunctions that come in pairs (such as either/or, neither/nor, and not only/but also) and connect words or phrases in a sentence to form a complete thought. Typically, commas are unnecessary with correlative conjunctions.

Incorrect: Either the blue shirt, or the red sweater will look good with your jeans.
Correct: Either the blue shirt or the red sweater will look good with your jeans.
Incorrect: You can wear a pashmina not only for warmth, but also for fashion.
Correct: You can wear a pashmina not only for warmth but also for fashion.

Read, understand and make a note: DON’T USE COMMAS WHEN COMPARING STUFF. This works for two entries because above that rule is this one:

Comma Within a Comparison

Don’t use a comma before “than” when you’re making a comparison.

Incorrect: This box is lighter, than that box.
Correct: This box is lighter than that box.

No idea why these two are separate, but it’s the same deal: Don’t use commas when comparing stuff. I swear you do not have to know what a correlative conjunction is.

I can go through the whole thing, but that’s for you to do to make it make sense to yourself. Once you know and understand, you can incorporate the fact that style guides and grammar guides like Chicago Manual of Style are about formal writing. Themes and dissertations and journalism.

They are not about prose fiction and vernacular. Nor are they about writing for an international audience. Prose writers use frags as style. Punctuation marks have reasonable functions you can learn. BUT

We use commas for more. We use commas to pace the reader, to slow them slightly. Or not use a comma to speed them up. Dialogue is even looser. People don’t use “whom” when they should in speech. They pause and stumble and backtrack and all of that reveals character and emotion without having to resort to the dreaded adverbs.

Once you understand the rules, (such as they are in whatever source you’ve chosen, because they will vary) then you can DO WHATEVER THE FUCK SERVES YOUR STORY, STYLE AND READERS.

Stop giving a crap about the opinions of the anal-retentive grammar police. Give your work to a smart savvy person and if they say, “You gotta get better at this,” get better at it.

Do the work, but be the writer.

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