By Judy Vorfeld
Q. How do I know if and when to use a comma to set off words near the beginning of a sentence?
A. Use a comma after elements that begin a sentence and also come before the subject and verb of the main clause. Examples: No, we won’t.…Well, we may or we may not.
Also use a comma after an initial request or command. Examples: Look, this isn’t the first time it’s happened.…Always remember, use a different font for headings.
Q. What about setting off words, phrases or clauses that aren’t vital to the meaning of the sentence?
A. Use commas here, as well. Example: Let’s call Claudia, who’s a technical wizard, to get help.
Q. Can I use a comma to separate a word, phrase or clause when I want an afterthought?
A. Absolutely. Example: Contact me as soon as possible, please.…It’s not to late, is it?
Q. I need help understanding serial commas. I can never remember whether or not to use a comma before “and.“
A. Most experts use a comma before “and.” Here’s an example: I’d like to express my appreciation to Oprah, Anderson, and Regis.
Some grammar experts say it’s okay to omit the comma before “and.” Example: “I’d like to express my appreciation to Oprah, Sally and Regis.” But it’s a bit awkward. Each of the three elements is meant to be a separate entity. Use the serial comma.
Best practice: if there are three or more items in a series, and the last one is preceded by “and,” “or,” or “nor,” use a comma before the conjunction and between the other items. If you’re uncomfortable with that, you can always rewrite the sentence (see sentence below for people who hate commas).
Correct: We need a CPU, monitor, and mouse to get started.
Correct: (For people who hate commas) We need a CPU and monitor and mouse to get started.
Awkward: We need a CPU, monitor and mouse to get started.
NOTE: The above suggestions usually apply to everything but journalism. The Associated Press Style Guide doesn’t use the serial comma, but keep in mind that the AP style has to be brief. Space in newspapers, magazines, etc., is limited. So follow the style guides. Questions? Ask me. I have most style guides…