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Grammar Tips & Tidbits

 

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Comma Confusion: When Not to Use Commas
 

Thank you for joining me for another installment in the Comma Confusion Series! In this issue, we'll be discussing when not to use commas.

 
It's no wonder commas are so confusing―there are an endless number of rules for using them. The following guidelines are based on those found in the tenth edition of The Gregg Reference Manual

 

These are some instances when a comma should not be used:
 


A.  In a series containing only two items
 

    Correct: Do you prefer pie or cake?
  Incorrect: Do you prefer pie, or cake?

 

B.  Before an ampersand (&) in a company's name
 

    Correct: My lawyer is with Peterson, Paulson & Markson.
  Incorrect: My lawyer is with Peterson, Paulson, & Markson.
     
  Exception: A comma may be used before the ampersand (&) if you're certain that is the company's preference.

 

C.  After the last item in a series
 

    Correct: She was hot, tired, and sunburned after picking blueberries.
  Incorrect: She was hot, tired, and sunburned, after picking blueberries.


D.  Between adjectives when one or more of the adjectives and the
     following noun form a single idea

    Correct: The neighbors just built a new brick wall.
  Incorrect: The neighbors just built a new, brick wall.
    (The words brick wall form a single idea, so a comma is not needed to separate the adjectives new and brick.)
     
  Correct: Have you read much about the progressive Swedish medical system?
  Incorrect: Have you read much about the progressive, Swedish, medical system?
    (The words Swedish medical system form a single idea, so commas are not needed to separate progressive, Swedish, and medical.)
     
  Quick Tip: Insert a comma only between adjectives where the word and could be used.
     
  Correct: Carly is a trustworthy AND dependable nursing student.
    Carly is a trustworthy, dependable nursing student.
    (The word and can be used between trustworthy and dependable, so a comma should be inserted there.)
     
  Incorrect: Carly is a trustworthy, dependable AND nursing student.
    Carly is a trustworthy, dependable, nursing student.
    (The word and cannot be used between dependable and nursing because nursing student forms a single idea. A comma should not be inserted there.)


To read additional issues in the Comma Confusion Series, see the Grammar Tips & Tidbits Archive.
 

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Sources:
 

1. Sabin, William A. The Gregg Reference Manual. 10th edition.
         New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin, 2005, pp. 40-41.