So now, if you please, pick up your courtesy Grand Hotel pens and tablets, and let’s begin. (Ruthy, darling, stop fussing with the buffet table. There will be time for tea and scones later.)
The first order of business will be a pop quiz, because Grammar Queen really must assess your comma skills before the lecture begins. Please mark each of these sentences correct or incorrect, and be prepared to explain your reasons:
1. Audra visited the palace to see her cousins, the maid and the butler. [Hint: the maid and the butler are NOT Audra’s cousins.]
2. Myra fears London, England can be quite foggy this time of year.
3. Mary is the author of many, published books.
4. October, 2007, is when the Seekerville blog was established.
5. The novels, that Janet and Julie have written, involved much research.
6. “Hello Pam,” Tina said with a wave.
7. Cara will sign the book contract, if her agent approves of the terms.
8. Missy rocked on her front porch wearing a new dress.
9. Debby and Ruthy unfortunately were unavailable for the autograph party.
10. Sandra’s friend, Glynna, is going shopping this weekend.
Well, class, how well do you think you performed on this quiz? Before we check your answers, here is what Anne Stilman has to say about the comma in her outstanding reference Grammatically Correct:
“The comma is by far the most-used punctuation mark, typically outnumbering all the others put together. Its basic role is to function as an interrupter, separating a sentence into distinct units.”
The Chicago Manual of Style describes the role of the comma even more succinctly:
“Effective use of the comma involves good judgment, with ease of reading the end in view.”
And now, grammar students, it’s time to check your quiz answers. I would suggest you exchange papers with a classmate for grading, but that might prove difficult under these classroom conditions. So Grammar Queen is trusting you to be fair and honest in checking your own work.
To simplify grading, let me begin by informing you that ANY sentence you marked as CORRECT is an automatic 10-point deduction.
Yes, class, you heard me. Every single sentence on this quiz demonstrated incorrect usage of the comma.
We will now discuss the applicable rules in each instance.
1. Audra visited the palace to see her cousins, the maid, and the butler.For the purpose of clarity, the serial comma is necessary after “maid” to indicate Audra visited four or more individuals.
2. Myra fears London, England, can be quite foggy this time of year.Commas are required to set off the individual elements in addresses or place names. Therefore, a comma is required both before and after “England.”
3. Mary is the author of many published books.When two or more adjectives precede a noun, the comma is NOT used if you cannot insert the word “and” between the adjectives and have the sentence still make sense. In this sentence we have removed the comma after “many.”
4. October 2007 is when the Seekerville blog was established.When a month and year only are given, no commas should be used. The commas before and after “2007” have been deleted. If using the month, day, and year, use commas as in this example: “Sunday, December 25, 2011, is the date for Christmas this year.” Note that each element of the date is set off by commas.
5. The novels that Janet and Julie have written involved much research.“That Janet and Julie have written” is a restrictive phrase, necessary to identify whose books involved much research. Therefore, it should NOT be set off by commas.
6. “Hello, Pam,” Tina said with a wave.In any phrase containing a direct address, the person’s name should be set off by commas, wherever it appears in the phrase. Yes, Grammar Queen is sadly aware that in casual correspondence such as email, many of you simply type “Hi Pam” or Hello Tina” and completely ignore the need for a comma. Grammar Queen abides such flagrant rule bending in limited cases, but she is of the firm opinion that you should follow the rules in manuscripts and professional correspondence. (You do want to make a good impression on those editors and agents, do you not?)
7. Cara will sign the book contract if her agent approves of the terms.
8. Missy rocked on her front porch, wearing a new dress.We may correctly assume Missy, not her front porch, is wearing the new dress. True, this sentence is awkwardly worded and would more reasonably be cast as “Wearing a new dress, Missy rocked on her front porch.” Grammar Queen did have a point to make, however. In this case, the comma was necessary for clarity.
9. Debby and Ruthy, unfortunately, were unavailable for the autograph party.The word “unfortunately” is a parenthetical expression, which must, therefore, be set off by commas. Other parenthetical expressions include therefore, however, indeed, and to say the least.
10. Sandra’s friend Glynna is going shopping this weekend.Must I explain that Glynna is not Sandra’s ONLY friend? “Glynna” is used as an appositive in this sentence, and because it is restrictive (meaning the name identifies which of Sandra’s MANY friends is going shopping), we do NOT use commas here.
On the other hand, since I assume Sandra is not a bigamist, in the following example the commas are necessary: “Sandra’s husband, Mr. Leesmith, was quite a catch!” The name in this instance is nonrestrictive, meaning it provides supplemental rather than essential information.
Though we have barely touched on the many aspects of correct comma usage, this concludes our lesson for today. However, should you have questions about anything comma related, Grammar Queen will do her best to provide answers.
If you are feeling brave, perhaps you would share your pop quiz scores in our comment section. If not, well, Grammar Queen can certainly understand your reluctance to expose your grammar skills to public scrutiny.
Do be aware, however, that as you busily type your comments willy-nilly across the Internet, Grammar Queen may be watching! And if not I, then perhaps the editor or agent for whom you have set your cap. Remember, dears, the Internet has a very long memory!
Myra here. Uh, thanks, Grammar Queen . . . I think. I hope you haven’t intimidated our Seekerville guests too badly! Just a reminder, Seekervillagers, I live with this snob--er, brilliant grammarian--24/7/365! I know she can be a royal pain in the you-know-what, but her sole motivation is preserving the quality of written communication. A worthy goal for anyone in the writing profession, wouldn’t you agree?
Oh, by the way, Grammar Queen insists on tagging along with me to my Tuesday-morning Bible study, so she won't be able to stop in to chat until after lunch. She suggests you compare notes among yourselves (BUT DON'T CHEAT ON THE QUIZ!) until she arrives.