Back to Basics: A Compilation of Tips, Part 3

If you missed it on Twitter the other night, Kas90 put on her teacher glasses and got to work, teaching the class some of her pet-peeves in writing, which led to getting down to the nitty-gritty basics of grammar and punctuation. She covered things ranging from misused words, dialogue / action tags, semicolons, and commas. If you missed it, or you just need a refresher, you’re in luck! Here is a post covering the topics she discussed the other night!


I’m one of those super nerds who love commas. I want to live and breathe (not breath, lol) commas. When I’m beta’ing, my most common comment is either ‘add comma’ or ‘remove comma’. So here are some comma basics that will benefit everyone.

As we talked about in the ‘semicolon’ section, commas are used to separate two independent clauses when a coordinating conjunction is present. Now, that might seem like a lot of grammar-jumble-speak, but let’s break it down. If you can split the sentence into two separate sentences and there the words FOR, AND, NOR, BUT, OR, YET, SO are present, split it up with a comma!

Ex: Here are two independent clauses – Alice came into the kitchen. She laughed at the mess.

Now, written like that, it’s super choppy, so we usually combine them with a coordinating conjunction (FANBOYS).

Ex: Alice came into the kitchen and she laughed at the mess. – Now, who can tell me what’s missing there. Yes, THE COMMA! Because two independent clauses are combined with a coordinating conjunction, you need a comma! So this is how the sentence should look: Alice came into the kitchen, and she laughed at the mess.

Here is when you don’t need a comma: when there is one independent clause combined with a dependent clause. A dependent clause cannot stand alone as a sentence. You would never say: “laughed at the mess” as its own sentence. So, when combing an independent clause and dependent clause, do not use a comma.

This is correct: Alice came into the kitchen and laughed at the mess.

This is incorrect: Alice came into the kitchen, and laughed at the mess.

Commas are also used to surround appositives. What is an appositive? It is a noun or phrase that renames a noun in a sentence. Here is an example:

My cousin, Emmett’s son, is coming to visit. – Emmett’s son renames cousin.

I love you, Bella. – Bella renames you.

My aunt, a doctor at the hospital, is going to help us deliver the baby. – the appositive is further describing ‘aunt’.

*Notice that all these appositives can be removed from the sentence and they would still make sense.

My cousin is coming to visit. I love you. My aunt is going to help us deliver the baby.

This is because the appositives are non-restrictive clauses. – I won’t get into that now. Restrictive vs. non-restrictive can be a lesson for another day! 😉

Prepositional phrases / subordinating conjunctions and commas, another favorite! Instead of using a lot of grammar terms and definitions, I’m going to explain this using examples.

Prepositions: on, above, over, under, to, beneath, etc. Just think: A pencil and a desk. Can the pencil be on the desk? Above the desk? Under the desk? Yes? Then it is a preposition. Prepositional phrases are like: Over the chair, beneath the table, on the counter, etc.

If the prepositional phrase comes before the basic sentence, then there needs to be a comma.

Ex: On the counter, there is a blender.

There would be no comma if the prepositional phrase came after the basic sentence.

Ex: There is a blender on the counter.

Subordinating conjunctions: because, if, when, although, unless, though, while, before, etc. (If you Google subordinating conjunctions then the entire list will appear.)

When a subordinating conjunction is used, it creates a dependent clause (subordinating phrase). Anyway, these require commas.

Ex: Because of the storm, we lost our house. Before the test, we all went to breakfast.

However, if the subordinating phrase is used after the basic sentence (just like the prepositional phrase) no comma is required.

Ex: We lost our house because of the storm. We all went to breakfast before the test.

Now, there are a lot more comma rules, but I didn’t get into them during this past Twitter-tip session.

That’s the last of the tips from the Sunday night session! Follow @emergencybeta so you don’t miss the next session!

2 Responses to Back to Basics: A Compilation of Tips, Part 3

  1. Thank you for these tips… even though I think my eyes crossed a little bit trying to make sense of these rules. My Mother Tongue is Spanish so it feels like I’m relearning rules of grammar. Your effort is quite appreciated.

    • Rags says:

      Kas really knows her commas, doesn’t she? 🙂 We are very grateful for having her to explain them to the rest of us!

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