Comma Kathy talks Common Comma Error: Conjunction ‘and’ Doesn’t Always Need One
Early in my career as an independent business writer, I produced hundreds of newsletters. They provided reliable, predictable income – ideal for someone operating as a freelancer. At one time I had 12 newsletter clients, creating an I’m Dancing as Fast as I Can scenario, just like the title of the 1982 movie.
In the early ’90s, many people used computers for little more than email. I was an early fan of desktop publishing; after planning newsletter content with the client, conducting interviews, and writing stories, I created newsletter layouts with PageMaker. Commercial printers produced the number of issues a client needed.
One printshop owner developed a nickname for me: Comma Kathy. He showed great patience with my propensity to review a proof and make tiny tweaks – often no more than a word choice or punctuation change. (My ruthless editor roots run deep.)
Although I perceived his intention for the moniker as friendly teasing – or was it his way of showing frustration with my perfectionism? – I considered it a compliment. Which brings me to this post’s topic: commas. I more often see commas where they are not needed than missing commas where they are needed.
Independent vs. Dependent Clauses
When you have two complete sentences – also called independent clauses – and you connect them with a conjunction (and, but, or, for, nor, yet, so, for example), you need to insert a comma before the conjunction.
But if the second clause that makes up the sentence is a dependent clause (lacks a subject), no comma is necessary.
These are complete sentences / independent clauses that can stand alone. Each has a subject and verb:
Tad plays guitar.
Toby teaches at a charter school.
These are not complete sentences, so they cannot stand alone. Each lacks a subject; it depends on a preceding clause to help it make sense:
and gives lessons to beginners
and will perform this weekend
and has grown fond of his students
In the examples that follow, the words in [brackets] are complete sentences / independent clauses. The words that are underlined are incomplete sentences / dependent clauses.
Do not use a comma with a dependent clause.
[Tad plays guitar] and gives lessons to beginners.
[Rachel dances] and will perform this weekend.
[Toby teaches at a charter school] and has grown fond of his students.
Do use a comma with an independent clause.
[Tad plays guitar], and [he gives lessons to beginners].
[Rachel dances], and [she will perform this weekend].
[Toby teaches at a charter school], and [he has grown fond of his students].
Exercise: Compare Independent and Dependent Clauses
The following examples from reading I’ve done show the wrong (no) and then the right (yes) way to include a comma. Note that simply adding a subject to the second clause makes comma use correct.
no: [The ads are backed by significant statewide buys], and will run through the rest of July.
yes: [The ads are backed by significant statewide buys], and [they will run through and the rest of July].
no: [He doesn’t drive a sports car], and says he doesn’t intend to anytime soon.
yes: [He doesn’t drive a sports car], and [he says he doesn’t intend to anytime soon].
no: [Many members of today’s working class no longer are employed in factories], and never will be again.
yes: [Many members of today’s working class no longer are employed in factories], and [they never will be again].
Because commas serve so many purposes, I have devoted five chapters to their use my book, Grammar for People Who Hate Rules: Killer Tips from the Ruthless Editor.
Chapter 29: Commas With Latin Abbreviations
Chapter 30: Commas With Academic Degrees
Chapter 41: When Does a Sentence Need a Comma?
Chapter 42: When Does But Need a Comma?
Chapter 43: Multiple Adjectives Don’t Always Need Multiple Commas
I fondly recall my Comma Kathy days. How fortunate I was to step into the world of writing and publishing as computer technology and the internet were emerging. All writers now have the ability to make corrections and revisions easily and quickly; cut and paste paragraphs or entire chapters; count words, whether by paragraph, by chapter, or by entire manuscript; and electronically search for word overuse or redundancies.
Oh … and we can easily add or delete commas.
Kathleen Watson has nearly three decades of experience as an independent business writer, serving clients in both corporate and academic settings. Her weekly blog, Killer Tips from The Ruthless Editor, offers practical word and punctuation tips, as does her recently published book Grammar For People Who Hate Rules: Killer Tips From The Ruthless Editor. Contact her at: Kathy@RuthlessEditor.com.