If I had a penny for every comma error I correct, I would make…let’s see…about 50 cents a day. Ok, at a penny per error, that doesn’t add up to much. Over a year, though, that’s around 18,250 comma errors. Yes, they are that common. Granted, I’m an editor, so I read a lot of texts that have not yet been edited or proofread. I get paid to do such things as fix comma errors.
Here are the two most common comma errors I fix. (Your grammar checker probably won’t catch them, but don’t worry. I’ll help you learn how to use commas correctly.)
Two Most Common Comma Errors
Error 1. Comma between two independent clauses. Zen Comma Rule D tells us to put a comma before a coordinating conjunction that joins two independent clauses.
(An independent clause has a subject and predicate and can serve as a complete sentence)
Example: The program was a success [comma] and the director recognized the team’s efforts.
The common mistakes are 1) to leave out the comma, and 2) to put the comma after the conjunction. As seen from the example, the comma goes before the conjunction.
Error 2. Comma after introductory adverbial phrases and clauses. Zen Comma Rule G tells us to put a comma after introductory clauses and phrases.
(An introductory adverbial phrase or clause is before the main subject and describes the predicate, the main verb, in some way)
Example: When John received the letter [comma] he reached for the bottle.
The common mistake is to leave out the comma. As seen from this example, the comma falls between the introductory clause and the subject.
Why This Matters
It’s important to know when to use commas. When we avoid (or correct) these two errors, we produce correct writing that decreases the possibility for reader misunderstanding. Commas improve clarity, and clarity is our most important goal.
Do you struggle knowing when to use commas? Get Zen Comma, an instructive reference guide on the 17 major uses and misuses of commas, available in PDF and Kindle formats. Read more about Zen Comma.