Tactical Tuesday: Advice for Self-Editing

We continue our look at the mark of punctuation that puts music into your manuscript. Here are the last five rules for comma placement:
Comma Rule #16: A comma follows the salutation in a personal letter or a complimentary close of your correspondence.
Example: Dear John, I'm leaving you. Sincerely, Jane Doe.
*Note business correspondence requires a colon following the salutation.
Comma Rule #17: Used as a parenthetical statement, phrases that contrast or add to a sentence are set off with commas.
Example: John was a little sad, if not downright depressed, that Jane left him.
Comma Rule #18: In a sentence of dialogue separated by a tag, use commas to separate the direct quotation from the tag.
Example: I wish I knew," Mary said, "what John planned to do about Jane."
Comma Rule #19: When the same verb is used side by side in a sentence, a comma should separate the two uses.
Example: Whoever left, left before the show was over.
However, sometimes when two verbs are used, one is a helping verb to the other. A comma should not be used.
Example: If he had had the ear muffs last night, he might not be sick today.
Comma Rule #20: On occasion, a writer must determine if they want a pause to set off a verb phrase. The comma depends upon the importance of the verb phrase or how it sounds to the author's ear.
Example: Mary bought a beautiful gown for the formal dance, hoping that John would forget about Jane.
Once an author learns and practices the rules of comma usage, they can more easily break those rules to add style to their manuscript. As always, though, there is a caution. Style comes from breaking the rules when it best suits the situation. In other word, when breaking rules, the old adage, "less is more," is very appropriate.
Happy Editing!


  1. The most frequently broken comma rule in fiction writing (in published and unpublished writing), in my opinion, is "Use a comma before a conjunction used to join two independent clauses."

    Bob went to the store, and Jane bought a boat.

    Omission of the Oxford comma bothers me, too, but at least that's more of a style thing.

    Thanks for posting these!

  2. Thanks for being my "comma catcher," Heidi.