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3 Common Comma Mistakes

The comma is one of the most abused and misused punctuation marks in the English language. The comma gives us the dreaded run-on sentence, the confusion of verb separation and odd sentence fragments, and—when missing altogether—some of the most hilarious misunderstandings in the grammar world.

The Run-On (and-on-and-on) Sentence

Is there anything more annoying than a run-on sentence, one that doesn't seem to ever end, and as one comma piles on another, without any break in sight, you begin to wonder what it is that you're even reading, as the point becomes less and less clear the longer you read, and the original subject gets lost in all these ceaseless, pointless, commas, because how can anyone think it's even possible to understand so many thoughts crammed in between two periods?

The run-on sentence, or comma splice, happens when a comma joins two independent clauses. An independent clause is a standalone statement. If both parts of your sentence make perfect sense all by themselves, do not use a comma. Use a period, a semicolon, or a comma plus a conjunction (if you really must have your comma).

The Missing Comma

"I'm sorry I love you."

"I'm sorry, I love you."

As you can see, when the comma is missing, even the most well-intentioned statement can turn into a minefield of unintended meaning. This common mistake runs rampant in text messaging, Facebook comments, and status updates, which can lead either to someone simply laughing at the awkward meaning of your sentence or to an epic misunderstanding.

Here are a few other examples:

"Man bacon makes anything taste good! Even hospital salad!"

"Attention: Toilet only for disabled elderly pregnant children. Thank you!"

The Unnecessary Comma

This mistake is everywhere. A comma should never separate a verb from its direct object, separate paired elements joined by a coordinating conjunction, or come between an independent clause and its dependent clause.

"Stop clubbing, baby seals."

As you can see, this comma separates the verb "clubbing" from its direct object, "baby seals." The comma is the only thing standing between a murder and a dance-off.

"You either like pumpkin spice lattés, or you don't."

When two elements of your sentence form a pair, usually in sentences using constructions like "either . . . or," then no comma is necessary.

"My plants died, because I forgot to water them."

Remember, when you have an independent clause and a dependent clause in the same sentence, no comma is necessary.

Although there are other ways to misuse commas, these three are the most pervasive; if you can learn to avoid these, you're well on your way to proper comma usage! To be quite sure, consider enlisting the expertise of a professional editing service to double-check for any missing, unnecessary, or improperly used commas.

Image source: George Becker/