Today’s lesson: Make figuring out appropriate comma use a little easier by replacing them with simplified words or phrases that are easier to gauge.
Noun and Gerund Phrases
One issue I see often is comma placement between a nominal or gerund phrase and the verb phrase the follows. The longer or more complicated either of these nominal phrases is, the more likely it is that writers will make this mistake. By replacing more complicated phrases with single nouns or pronouns, you can test whether that comma actually belongs. Consider the following examples:
Example: “People who love freshly bloomed roses love the prettiest flowers.” Many writers might be tempted to place a comma between “roses” and “love,” but this is incorrect. Let’s replace the noun phrase, “people who love freshly bloomed roses,” with a single word and see how that looks:
Simplified: “They love the prettiest flowers.” No comma, right? Since nominal phrases, no matter what the length, are interchangeable, this means there also is no comma in “People who love freshly bloomed roses love the prettiest flowers."
Here’s another one: “He who plays the game best wins the game.” Tempted to use a comma? Simplify “he who plays the game best” with simply “he”:
“He wins the game.” No comma.
Here are a couple of examples containing gerunds:
“Taking the time to stop and smell the roses helps people find the time to appreciate the finer things in life.” Replace the gerund phrase, “taking the time to stop and smell the roses,” with a single word, such as “that”:
“That helps people find the time to appreciate the finer things in life.” No comma.
“Going over to her mom’s house every Sunday without fail complicates her weekly schedule.” Replace the gerund, “going over to her mom’s house every Sunday without fail,” with “that”:
“That complicates her weekly schedule.” No comma.
Verb and Adverb Phrases
Another big mistake writers make is placing commas between verb phrases and adverb phrases that follow them. Consider the following:
“She was running on the treadmill when the call came.” Tempted to place a comma between “treadmill” and “when”? Simplify the sentence by replacing the verb phrase “was running on the treadmill” with “she was running,” and replacing “when the call came” with “at the time”:
“She was running at the time.” No comma.
Conversely, many people will forego the comma when the adverb phrase comes before the verb phrase, which is incorrect. Always use a comma when an adverbial phrase comes at the beginning of a sentence: “When the call came, she was running on the treadmill.”
While you might have readers who also do not know the rules, there is always a chance that editors, agents, or reviewers reading your work do. If you take the time to know and understand these rules, your writing will be sharper and you will be able to present it to the world with confidence and skill.
Until next time, my pretties, when we address pronouns. (Insert evil cackle.)