Conquering the Comma (2)

People hate grammar—that much is common knowledge. But what we tend to forget is that good grammar makes for good writing. For this reason, we will be continuing with our ‘Conquering the Comma’ series, highlighting more uses of the comma, while also pointing out some common comma errors.

Use the comma in a direct address.

The Chicago Manual of Style notes that ‘…a comma is used to set off names or words used in direct address and informal correspondence’.

So we have:

Wendy, how are you?

Mum, will you be home tomorrow?

Also, place the comma before the name if it appears within the sentence or at the end of it.

Are you there, Tim?

I know your brother, David.

Use the comma to set off non-essential elements in a sentence.

Non-essential elements are clauses, phrases and words whose presence or absence does not affect the general message of the sentence.

I cooked the turkey, which took me nearly thirty minutes, before moving on to the decorations.

The trader, seeking higher profit, raised the prices of all her wares.

The rule of thumb with non-essential elements is that the comma is placed before and after the non-essential part.

Use a comma to indicate where a word has been omitted.

In cases like these, the comma helps to clear up confusion while indicating the omission.

Martha has two dogs; John (has) nine.

In that sentence, omitting ‘has’ without the use of the comma obscures the message being passed across.

The sentence becomes more straightforward when written like this.

Martha has two dogs; John, nine.

Use the comma to offset negation.

For example:

I saw a cow, not a duck.

She went to the mall, not the beach.

Some common comma errors:

  1. Comma splice

A comma splice is an error that occurs when two independent clauses are joined by a comma without a coordinating conjunction. A comma splice can be fixed by adding coordinating conjunction to the comma or switching the comma with a semi-colon.

Wrong            I went to the mall, she followed me.

    Right                 I went to the mall, and she followed me

  • Using commas between correlative conjunctions

Sometimes, the comma is erroneously used between the two conjunctions in a pair.

For example:

He not only broke the record, but he also broke hers.

Although this comma usage often seems correct, it is wrong. This means the sentence above should be written as:

He not only broke the record but he also broke hers.

  • Adding a comma before ‘that’ in a clause

There’s the tendency to punctuate them alike because of the functional similarities between ‘that’ and ‘which’, which is  wrong.

Wrong             The man, that bought the car is here.

Right               The man that bought the car is here.

  • Using a comma before a verb in a relative clause

Placing a comma before the verb connecting the relative clause to the main clause breaks the flow between both clauses, which is frowned upon in standard grammar.

Wrong             One of the perks of being a mother, is having someone to love.

Right              One of the perks of being a mother is having someone to love.

  • The unnecessary comma

Sometimes, we place the comma incorrectly because of the relatable ‘I just felt there should be a comma there’ feeling. Sometimes, this hunch is right, while at other times, it is wrong.

The best way to avoid making such mistakes is by structuring your sentences with grammar rules in mind.

For example:

You either like food, or you don’t.

My dog died, because I starved it.

Both sentences are wrong because they need no comma.

Lastly, the easiest way to get the hang of comma use is by reading and writing regularly. When you see how others use the comma, you get better at using the comma. It’s that easy. Excellent comma use isn’t an impossible dream; it is easier than you think.

Conquering the Comma (1)

The comma is a punctuation mark associated with brief pauses. It is also employed to mark off items in a list and to link phrases and clauses for a more explanatory sentence. 

Despite being the most abused, most underrated, and most misunderstood punctuation mark in the English Language, the comma remains the most significant. Here’s an example:

Let’s eat Grandma.

The sentence above implies that ‘the children want to eat their Grandma’, but if we add a comma, you’ll find out that they really don’t want to eat their Grandma; the sentence is only bereft of punctuation.

Let’s eat, Grandma.

This shows that the presence or absence of the comma can determine the understanding of the simplest messages.

So how do you master this elusive punctuation? By learning when to use the comma. 

Use the comma to separate items on a list.

At the market, I bought oranges, apples, mangoes, and cherries.

Take a cup, two shoes, and three pencils with you.

Note that some scholars see no need for the use of the Oxford or serial comma, which is the comma used after the penultimate item, but as professionals, we advise that you use it as it helps to clear up certain confusions. 

This popular internet meme emphasises our point: 

We invited strippers, JFK and Stalin.

The absence of the comma made it seem like JFK and Stalin are the strippers (how hilarious that is).

But if you add the serial comma, it would read: 

We invited strippers, JFK, and Stalin.

Serial commas have just helped to make the sentence clearer. 

Use the comma after introductory clauses, phrases, or words.

To be healthy, you must always feed well.

As a matter of fact, I want her to leave now.

As you know, a phrase is a group of words that does not have a finite verb, and cannot stand alone, or pass a complete message. 

Introductory phrases, however, are phrases that provide background information about the sentences they are linked to.

However, not all hotels are comfortable.

Introductory words like ‘however’, ‘initially’ ‘still’, and ‘meanwhile’ serve as links of interaction from one sentence to another. 

Nevertheless, you might have stumbled upon style guides that frown on the use of ‘however’ as the opening word in a sentence. They prefer writers to use ‘nevertheless’ or ‘but’.

 It is advisable to use ‘however’ as it seamlessly connects the preceding sentence with the following sentence. Also, why waste a perfect word for no justifiable reason?

Use the comma before a quotation.

Here the comma distinguishes the main sentence from the quoted sentence.

He said, ‘Hand me my bag, please’.

‘I am in the room’, she said.

‘I did it’, she seethed. ‘And I will do it again!’

Use the comma to separate a dependent clause that comes before the independent clause. 

Dependent clauses have subjects or verbs but do not express complete thoughts. They cannot stand alone but must be linked to the main sentence by a comma.

If you cannot make it, please call me.

After settling the fight, David took a long bath.

Use the comma to join long independent clauses.

When used between two independent clauses, the comma prevents confusion while also serving as a link. This function is mostly appreciated by readers who sometimes need a pause to catch their breaths after a long read.

I was determined to find her a new apartment, but my money was short.

There were no cars in the parking lot and the driveway even though the lights were on, so I had to call.

Use the comma after free-standing words like ‘thank you’, ‘no’, ‘hello’ and ‘yes’.

Yes, I will be there tomorrow.

No, I will not be there tomorrow.

Thanks, but I am aware.


Hello, how are you?

We have only scratched the surface, but we intend to go further. In our next post, we’ll be highlighting more comma functions, some comma errors and finally give you concise tips on how to conquer the comma.

Ever heard of a comma splice?

You’ll find out in our next post.

3 Reasons You Need To Write Beyond Your Niche.

In an earlier post, we emphasised the need for writers to find their niches, but in this post, we will be discussing why  writers should go beyond their niches. Much as this may seem like a contradiction, it is not. We aim to help writers understand that a niche is not equivalent to a limit. You are not circumscribed to explore only within the borders of your niche; there is so much more you can do.

All writing is art, and all art is boundless. A writer with a niche is not a writer with a boundary, but one with a recognised and developed area of strength.

To buttress our point, here are three valid reasons why every writer needs to go beyond his/her niche.

  1. Professional writers try to know a little of everything.

Much as it is impossible to know everything, it is possible to know a little of everything. This is the difference between the exceptional and the ordinary—versatility.

If there is one thing professional writers are known for, it is flexibility. They refuse to be constrained within a forte. They are curious enough to try their hands on any aspect of writing they pick an interest in. Now, while they may not get it right, they gain knowledge.

Professional writers are not the best at everything; they are writers who are dedicated to expanding their range of knowledge and experience.

2. Challenging yourself boosts mental agility.

Mental agility is the ability to segue from one task to another. Mental agility is one of the most important skills any individual could possess. It is necessary for every person irrespective of career choice.

Writers need mental agility, and one of the easiest ways to boost it is by challenging yourself. Challenges are a lot like the physical exercises we do to keep our bodies fit, except this time, it’s our minds.

Taking on new duties no matter how difficult, trains your mind to adapt to foreign objectives or conditions. This way, nothing overwhelms you mentally because your mind is prepared to take on challenges.

Trying out other types of writing is a form of challenge. You don’t have to get it right. You might even do very poorly, but you put your brain to the test, and that’s all that matters. 

3. Versatility heightens your creativity.

Writing exposes you to different styles, types and methods of writing. It also causes you to develop a unique flavour that comes only by experience and exposure. It gives you flair, energy, and a vibe that you can’t find anywhere else. Dabbling takes your writing from good writing to sui generis.

Remember, it is never about being good at everything. It is all about keeping yourself unhindered and letting your talent run wild and free. It is about self-exploration, satisfying curiosity and learning new things.

Why keep yourself circumscribed within a niche when you could go much farther?

Today, try your hands on other genres of writing.

Do Writers Need Editing Tools?

Yes, they do.

Does this mean the writers are not talented? No. Does this mean they do not know their onions? Of course not. Are writers fakes for fixing their shortcomings with editing tools? Far from it!

A writer is good with or without editing tools. After all, the world’s greatest masterpieces were written long before Artificial Intelligence (AI) was introduced in writing. However, editing tools take you from a good to an efficient writer. 

What if Jane Austen had had Grammarly? What if Leo Tolstoy had ProWritingAid? Without a doubt, they would have achieved much more in less time. 

Still not convinced? Here are a few other reasons why you need an editing tool.

  1. Editing tools save you time.

In place of re-reading countless times trying to spot errors that have continually eluded you, how about you run it through Proofread Bot or Slick Write? That way, you save time and guarantee quality.

2. Editing tools are lifesavers.

They hunt down split infinitives, attack poorly constructed sentences and even muck out every usage of a comma in place of a semi-colon. This way, some of the work is taken off the editor’s shoulders, affording him the chance to focus on weightier matters. 

3. You learn from them.

The first time Grammarly accused you of redundancy, you almost had a heart attack. You were aghast. ‘But I’m a great writer’, you protested. ‘And there is absolutely nothing wrong with “just” (never mind the fact it was completely unnecessary in the sentence). 

After months of strict correction and unapologetic blows to your ego, you start to pick up.

Today, you know that the word ‘just’ tends to be redundant. You learn that you are emotionally attached to ‘that’ and use it everywhere (even when you should not). You find that punctuating in a compound sentence is wrong because the editing tool drew a long red line under your favourite word ten times. 

Editing tools do not stop at alerting you to errors, they back up every correction with plausible and accurate grammatical explanations that help you brush up your writing and editing skills.

4. The editing is spot-on 

After wrapping up your three thousand word-essay, you declare yourself a pro, a master writer—the best among many. Your brain tells you there is not an error in sight. The only red marks in your work are under the names. Everything looks perfect, but is it?

It turns out the brain is very biased when it comes to the content it produces. Due to your familiarity with the content, you tend to skim instead of thoroughly examining the work. The bottom line is that you cannot trust yourself to edit your work. This is where editing tools come in. 

A no-nonsense AI editing tool is designed to take one look at your work and show you the many run-on sentences, poor word choices, and inconsistency issues. Not to mention the times you used ‘there’ instead of ‘their’. 

As you know, one rule of writing is no typos—at all. Typographical errors are one of the quickest ways to lose the reader’s interest. There are terrific editing tools out there. From Grammarly and Scrivener to ProWritingAid and Hemingway—these editing tools help take your writing to the next level.

You could also get assistance from editors and professional writers like Sabi Writers to give it that human touch.    

Here’s How to Live Without Criticisms

Is it possible to live without being criticised?

Why, yes! People do it all the time.

Forget what we said about six steps, there’s only one way to live without being criticised—to not live at all. In Aristotle’s words, ‘Criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing’.

It’s that simple. Live a life of no consequence, get no criticism. However, if you find this solution distasteful, there’s another way to live with criticism without being crushed by it.

In simpler terms, while you can’t live without criticism, you can live above it.

How do you do that?

Embrace criticism. You must understand that criticism can be delivered constructively or destructively. Constructive criticism is someone pointing out faults and failings without any hate or hurtful language. On the other hand, destructive criticism is an expression of disapproval, rife with negative emotions or poorly expressed opinions. Technically, they should both be embraced, but to varying degrees and with differing approaches.

How do you handle both constructive and destructive criticism?

The best way to handle criticism—constructive or otherwise—is to accept it objectively. Regardless of how much it hurts, detach your wounded ego from the mix and focus on the message. Criticism usually carries an element of truth. Examine each remark closely to sift all the areas where you need improvement.

Also, never respond to criticism in the full flare of your emotions. Swallow your pride and accept it graciously. Apologise if need be. Cry in private, but do not get involved in a shouting match or an open dispute. Keep yourself in check. This, dear reader, is known as emotional intelligence.

Turn criticism to a kindle. Let’s paint a picture for you. Imagine turning in a manuscript to your editor and spending weeks awaiting a reply. In your head, you envision the glorious feedback: ‘A stunning read… refreshing and profound… resonating with the wondrous interplay of heart and humour’. Instead, you get: ‘Exceedingly dull… your worst work yet. You could have done better’.

If you don’t spend the rest of the day staring at your computer with disdain, you will probably be sprawled over your kitchen table crying. Because it hurts. It might even take days to get the pain off your chest. But if you are wise, you will take those words, roll it up in a ball and throw it into your internal furnace. Yes, make those words part of the mélange of things that keep you going. Turn criticism to kindle—let it fuel you on.

They say you aren’t good enough? Fight to be good enough.

Remember, the Huffington post was heavily criticised initially. Today, it is the one-stop for news, entertainment and liberal political writing. Everything needs time to grow. Be patient with yourself. Understand that you can be whatever you want if you keep trying.

However, embracing criticism is no reason to allow verbal abuse and bullying. There is a firm difference between destructive criticism and flat-out abuse. Verbal abuse has a shockingly profound effect on your self-image and esteem.

Do not allow it.

We hope this helps.