Mistica Chronicles

Welcome to Issue 17
Created by The Mistic Pets Team

How To Avoid a Comma-tastrophe
Written By Cas

I’m going to be blunt with you: writing is hard.

You can’t just slap down some words on a page and expect to be the next Shakespeare; you have to spend years learning about the rules of grammar, the exceptions to those rules, the correct way to break those rules, and style, as well as how to apply all of that knowledge to your writing. However, in my experiences as an editor, there has been one area of the English language that trips people up in their writing time after time: punctuation.

While one can be rather lenient with other grammatical elements such as sentence structure and word choice, especially when writing monologues and spoken dialogue, punctuation is different, because we don’t speak it. When talking to your friends, you don’t say, “Oh COMMA, hey guys EXCLAMATION POINT! WhatAPOSTROPHE’re you up to QUESTION MARK?” Rather, the punctuation is implied by the natural pauses you use when speaking to separate sentences, ideas, and the like, so everything you say doesn’t mush together.

However, punctuation plays a much larger role than preventing run-on sentences (and allowing you to breathe when speaking); punctuation can determine the entire meaning of your sentence. This means that, if you put even one tiny comma in the wrong place, the meaning of your sentence is completely different from what you intended it to be. For example:

“Let’s eat, grandma!”


“Let’s eat grandma!”

By removing just one comma, we go from inviting our grandmother to dinner to making our grandmother our dinner. Correct punctuation saves lives, so it’s very important that you know the basic rules of its use. While I could go on for days on the intricacies of punctuation use, your attention spans (and my page limit) couldn’t possibly handle my vast deposits of knowledge, so I’m going to stick to the most important, glorious, and magnificent form of punctuation in existence: the comma.

How do we use it?

A comma is used to denote a small pause that separates different elements within our sentence; next to a dash, it represents the smallest degree of separation, so it is not strong enough to be used to separate sentences. However, it can still be used in a ton of different ways, such as :

In Combination with a Conjunction to Join Sentences

When paired with a conjunction, a comma can join two or more sentences together into one really awesome compound sentence. Because a comma signifies less of a pause than a period, it relates all of the sentences to one another, which can both bring more meaning and power to your writing. For example:

“I usually hate seafood. I think shrimp are delicious.”


“I usually hate seafood, but I think shrimp are delicious.”

Did you notice how the second example sounded a lot better than the first one? That’s because we connected our sentences with a comma and a conjunction rather than separating them with a period. However, this is only a rule when joining two sentences (or independent clauses). If you are making a compound predicate (such as “I swam and ran in the triathlon,”) we leave out the comma.

To Separate Items in a List

A comma’s magical powers of separation are also super effective when dealing with lists. Because each item in a list is a separate entity, we use commas in lists of three or more to separate each item from one another; this way, everything doesn’t run together and get confusing. For example:

“I ate bacon bread eggs an apple blueberries cereal and a lobster for breakfast.”


“I ate bacon, bread, eggs, an apple, blueberries, cereal, and a lobster for breakfast.”

I bet you couldn’t even get through that first sentence. Why? Because, without commas, all of those words mushed together into one big, long, ugly mess. With commas, however, the different items of our list are separated, and thus our list is much, much easier to understand. This comes in especially handy when dealing with adjectives that double as nouns, so that we can differentiate sentences such as “I hate red, eyes, and air raid sirens,” from “I hate red eyes and air raid sirens.”

Before Direct Quotations:

When quoting someone in a story, article, or essay, the part of our sentence where we specify who is doing the saying is obviously separate from the quotation itself. For this reason, when placing the “he said” portion of our sentence before the quotation, we separate them with a comma. For example:

“Cas said, “Commas are awesome.”

While the quotation is still part of our sentence (acting as the object to the verb “said,”) it still needs to be separated because we need to separate our words from other people’s words.

Inbetween Direct Quotations

Let’s say, when quoting someone, you want to stick a big ol’ pause in the middle of their sentence. In order to accomplish that, we shove the “he said” portion of our sentence right smack dab in the middle of our quotation. However, because we still need to separate our words from the words of whoever we’re quoting, we shove commas on both the end of the first part of our quotation and at the end of the “he said” part of our sentence. For example:

“Commas,” Cas said,” are awesome.”

This is an especially awesome technique to use when writing a story, because you can practically hear me pause after “commas” to relish in my unabashed passion for all things punctuation. However, if you are not interrupting the middle of a sentence, but rather placing the “he said” between two different sentences, you only need to place a comma at the end of your quotation. For example:

“Commas are awesome,” Cas said. “I think I shall marry one.”

(See the next section for more elaboration.)

At the End of a Direct Quotation

If you’d prefer to shove all of your “he said”s to the end of your quotations, then you must replace the period at the end of your quotation with a comma; as previously stated, this is because the quotation is the object of the verb “said” and thus still part of your sentence, but it still needs to be separated because it is someone else’s words rather than our own. For example:

“Commas are awesome,” Cas said.

However, this rule only applies to periods. If your quotation ends in any other form of punctuation, you leave it as is. For Example:

“Commas are awesome!” Cas exclaimed

“Are semi-colons awesome as well?” Cas wondered.

Anywhere Else You Need a Pause

I could go on for the rest of my life about all of the different instances where you would need to use a comma and still not cover everything. If none of the above rules apply, remember: a comma is used to denote a short pause. The best way to determine whether or not you need a comma is to say the sentence aloud. Is there a short, natural pause anywhere? If so, the areas where you paused are the areas where you need a comma. If you are still unsure, then it’s probably best to not use one; throwing commas everywhere is only going to make your writing full of unnecessary pauses that will distract the reader from what you’re trying to say. The list of “maybes” concerning comma use is probably longer than the ironclad rules, so there are many instances where there is absolutely no way to be wrong; it’s all about personal preference.

However, don’t let the vast amount of rules and complexities concerning commas scare you; the best way to learn how to use commas is to experiment. Throw commas here and there until you find what sounds right to you. Don’t worry about messing up or being “wrong” – making mistakes is how we learn and become great writers. Besides, people like me exist to worry about the rules for you – if writers didn’t make mistakes with commas (as much as I don’t like seeing comma abuse), I’d be out of a job.


Written By Pastiche

Thank you, Cas. A comma guide is what was called for because, sometimes, I abuse the poor comma. Great guide~ <3

Go Back to Articles

Go Back To Issue Overview