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  • Writer's pictureAmy Guan

Most Common Issue with Commas

Updated: Sep 20, 2023

Do not separate a subject from its verb with a comma—just don't.

Colorful book spines.


The Short Story


Never separate a subject from its verb with a comma. We will make the subjects blue and the verbs yellow so that we can understand this concept more easily.


Ex: The dog we adopted from the shelter was probably the nicest dog I’ve ever owned in my life.


Are there any logical pauses in this sentence? Nope! So no comma is needed. Some writers may see a long sentence like this and think that a comma should be used to break it up. But we really don’t need one here. Let’s look at this same sentence again WITH a comma.


Ex: The dog we adopted from the shelter, was probably the nicest dog I’ve ever owned in my life.


Can you imagine if your friend was telling you about her dog and paused after “shelter”? While you might appreciate her possible attempt to pause to build anticipation, you likely would just want her to finish her thought.



The Novel


Don’t overuse commas. How can we do that? Just read your sentences aloud. You’ll find that you don’t naturally pause as much as you think you do when writing.

One of the most common ways people overuse commas is between subjects and verbs. (Remember that “is,” “am,” “are,” “was,” “were,” “be,” “being,” and “been” are verbs too.)

Ex: Jessica ran to catch the bus.

We obviously wouldn't put a comma after “Jessica” in this sentence. The flow would be stilted. But what about this next example?

Ex: Jessica grabbed her book, pens, and backpack and ran out the door to catch the bus to school.

We don’t need a comma between “Jessica” and “grabbed” because we don’t want to separate the subject and the verb. However, what about after “backpack”? We don’t need one here either (even though this sentence is a long one). Because “ran” is the action carried out by Jessica, we don’t separate them.

Ex: An agreement to change the company's policies on paid lunches and mandatory breaks was made at the meeting yesterday morning.

Here is another long sentence. We may feel tempted to put a comma after “lunches” because we don’t want to overwhelm the reader with long sentences with no breaks. (See what I did there?) Don’t fall into that trap! “Agreement” is the subject and “was made” is the verb so we don’t want to separate them with a comma.

Let’s look at another example.

Ex: My boyfriend, a bearded construction worker, plays dress-up with our princess-loving daughter.

Why does this sentence have not one but TWO commas separating the subject (my boyfriend) from the verb (plays)? The answer is that the commas are surrounding a dependent clause (in other words, a part of a sentence that we could take out). If we take out “a bearded construction worker,” the sentence still makes sense. So it is correct to have a comma that comes before and after the dependent clause.

But if the sentence did not include the dependent clause, we would read it this way: “My boyfriend plays dress-up with our princess-loving daughter.” We can see that we don’t need a comma after “boyfriend” because it would separate the subject from the verb for no reason.



The Examples


You can learn more and improve reading comprehension by ‘linking branches’ and integrating your current book with other knowledge trees.”

(Clear, James. “Reading Comprehension: How to Retain More of Every Book You Read.” James Clear, 3 Feb. 2020, jamesclear.com/reading-comprehension-strategies.)


No commas are needed in this long sentence. “You,” the subject, is linked to four actions in this sentence: “learn,” “improve,” “linking,” and “integrating.”


“Considering this dinosaur was an herbivore, its skin color likely played a role in protecting it from the enormous carnivores of the time.”

(All That's Interesting. “Dinosaur 'Mummy' Unveiled With Skin And Guts Intact.” All That's Interesting, All That's Interesting, 26 Apr. 2021, allthatsinteresting.com/nodosaur-dinosaur-mummy.)


“Considering this dinosaur was an herbivore” is a dependent clause, which means it is not necessary to have in the sentence. This means “skin color” is the subject, and “played” is the verb. So, no commas would be put between them.


“A gentle dentist, that does work right the first time.”

(From an anonymous Facebook post looking for recommendations.)


This is an incorrect example. “Dentist” is the subject, and “does work” is the verb. So, we do not need a comma here.





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