Five-Minute Writing Tip # 42
Commas are important to me, not only professionally, but personally. I’m from the small Central Texas town of West. You just can’t say you’re from West, Texas or people will think El Paso or Lubbock. To avoid this confusion, locals refer to it as West-comma-Texas. You may not know much about Texas, but I’m sure you’ve heard it’s BIG. The western region has thousands of square miles of sand, prickly-pear cactus, armadillos, and tougher-than-nails coyotes. But West-comma has kolache (delicious Czech pastries) bakeries, and lots of Catholic-Czech immigrant descendants. So as I said, when I tell folks where I’m from they often ask, “Where in West Texas?” Then I have to explain the comma-thing. But, thank goodness a few years ago the Texas legislature proclaimed West the “Kolache Capital of Texas.” Now, folks rarely ask the “where in West Texas” question. They know. Now their response is, “Oh, the kolache town.”
Here are five kolache facts and five comma no-no’s:
1. Some writers incorrectly place a comma between the month and year:
In January, 2022, The Village Bakery will celebrate its seventieth year in business. The comma after January should be omitted.
But when the month, day, and year are used, a comma should be placed after the day.
The Village Bakery opened its doors on September 7, 1952.
2. Do not place a comma in front of that:
A Czech bakery that doesn’t make light, sweet kolaches will not be in business for long.
3. If a statement is clear and no further explanation is necessary, do not place a comma before because:
I like shopping at the Village Bakery because their kolaches are the best in town.
Confusion might occur if the sentence begins with a negative statement:
“I don’t shop at the Village Bakery just because Facebook entrepreneur Mark Zukerberg does, but because their kolaches are the best in town.”
4. In writing dialogue, the comma should be placed inside the ending quotation mark, not outside:
“If I don’t get a prune kolache in the morning, I’ll be in a cantankerous mood all day,” mumbled Uncle George.
5. Do not use a comma before and if a single subject has two predicates:
“If you try to mix up a perfect batch of kolaches and daydream of Benedict Cumberbatch at the same time, your body temperature might rise, but the dough won’t.”
Do use a comma before and if it joins two independent clauses:
“In my dreams, I made a batch of kolaches, and Benedict Cumberbatch ate them all.”
To simplify all these comma rules, my advice is not to get too wrapped up in comma usage—if in doubt, leave it out.
Kathleen Kaska, Marketing Director