Grammar is an essential element of effective writing, and few aspects of grammar are more important than the rules regarding commas. Commas are used to indicate pauses in a sentence and separate different elements of language, and when used correctly, they can help writers effectively communicate their ideas. One of the most common rookie mistakes is the misuse of the comma. Often times new writers will use them wrong or excessively, disrupting the effectiveness of the writing.

Why is Proper Comma Use Important?

The rules regarding commas can help writers structure their thoughts in a clear, logical way. For example, when a series of items are separated by commas, it helps the reader to keep track of all the elements in the sentence. Commas are also used to separate independent clauses and help ensure that the reader can easily process each sentence. Without knowledge and use of commas, writing can seem confusing and disorganized and result in lost meaning and understanding.

In addition to indicating pauses and separating clauses, commas can also be used to provide additional context or detail, clarifying meanings and intent within a sentence. By using commas to add phrases, explanations, and examples, the writer can better explain their points and ensure that the reader can comprehend the full context of the writing.

Understanding and applying the rules of commas is essential for any writer who wishes to communicate effectively. Excess or missing commas can lead to confusion and lost meaning, so learning the proper rules is essential for any writer. As a versatile way to convey meaning and shape sentences, commas are a key part of effective written communication and essential for all writers to know.

How to Properly Use Commas When Writing

Grammar rules for the proper use of commas can be confusing and difficult to understand at first. The best way to start understanding commas is to be aware of the basic functions that they serve. To begin, commas are used to indicate pauses in a sentence, to separate items in a list, and to set off introductory phrases or words.

Commas can also be used to separate two independent clauses or to join them together. When the clauses are connected, a comma is placed before the coordinating conjunction (e.g. and, but, or, so, yet). Commas can also be used to enclose words, phrases, or clauses that intervene between two independent clauses. For example,

“I asked for an extra blanket, yet there were none available.”

When addressing a person at the beginning or end of a sentence, commas should be used. For example,

“Jayden, please turn off the TV.” 


“Please turn off the TV, Jayden.”

Commas are used to set off dependent clauses or phrases that begin with relative pronouns, such as “who,” “which,” and “that.”

“The shirt that I wanted was sold out, which was disappointing.”

Finally, commas may also be used to set off words, phrases, or clauses that are not essential to the meaning of the sentence. Nonessential words, phrases, or clauses are usually placed between commas, while essential parts of the sentence are not separated by commas. 

“My brother, who lives in New York City, is a teacher.”

By following these rules, you can ensure that your writing is properly punctuated and easy to read.

Punctuation is a Powerful Tool for Manipulating the Reader’s Breath and Emotional Response to Creative Writing

Punctuation is an invaluable tool for creative writing, and when used correctly, it can masterfully manipulate the reader’s breathing. Whether it’s a quiet pause, a sharp gasp, or a relieved sigh, punctuation can create dramatic shifts in the reader’s attention and emotion.

The most common and influential form of punctuation is the period. Used to signify a question or a complete sentence, the period is also incredibly useful for creating pauses. By carefully spacing out the periods in a sentence or paragraph, a writer can create moments of tension. The reader’s anticipation for what will come next will heighten, and their breath will be held. For example, if a writer wanted to slow the reader’s breathing, they could write a sentence such as, “He paused… reached out his hand…”. By adding the extra periods, the reader will take a longer pause, which will give the sense that more is going on in the moment.

The exclamation point is another key punctuation mark for creative writing. It can create a sharp gasp or a startled reaction from the reader. This punctuation mark is able to capture the suddenness and unexpectedness of a moment, which will make the reader’s breath catch in their throat. Take the following sentence, for example: “He raced around the corner, only to find a figure waiting, eyes wide, mouth agape!” The exclamation point after the word agape will cause the reader to do a double-take, as this figure is unexpected and surprising.

Finally, the comma is a powerful punctuation that can create a relieved sigh from the reader. With its long pauses, commas can provide the reader with a moment to catch their breath and relax in the story’s atmosphere. A good use of this punctuation is when a character is talking and trying to buy time. Take, for example, the following sentence: “He searched for the words to say, his hands trembling, his eyes darting back and forth.” The comma after trembling slows down the sentence, giving the reader a chance to pause and process what is being said.

Practice, Practice, Practice

By mastering the use of punctuation and combining it with clever sentence structure, it is possible to increase tension and manipulate the emotional response of the reader through the breath. Short, chopping sentences will create a different physical response in the reader than long, flowing sentences. This can be used to emulate the emotions of the characters or scenes physically in the reader. Remember, practice and exploration are the keys to successful writing.

A couple of really great short stories to study include “Big Two-Hearted River” by Ernest Hemingway and “The Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe. Both are available online for free. I challenge you to play with the use of punctuation and post your writing samples below, and would love to see what you learn in your experimentation. Let me know what worked for you and what didn’t. Have you studied this before? Do you have anything more you can add and teach me? Share it below, and let me know what you think!

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