Miss Nancy’s Writing & Style Guide

By Nancy Collisson

Comma

Oscar Wilde once said “I’m exhausted. I spent all morning putting in a comma and all afternoon taking it out.”

When poring through your final edit to decide whether you really need those commas, it can be helpful to keep this quote in mind. While the basic rule is that you CAN use commas between prepositional phrases, stuffing them in everywhere bogs down the reader. So, when editing, read your selection aloud and consider carefully whether each comma is required. 

Always use a comma before your final ‘and.’ Do not use a comma after an ‘or.’ For example:

CORRECT

The wood-fired stove, flour, tomatoes, bufalina cheese, and even the head chef of Angelino’s are all from Napoli.

The ONLY time you do NOT need a comma before a list with a final ‘and’ is when you have two items that are generally recognized as or understood to be a twosome. For example:

CORRECT

During brunch, you can choose from bacon and eggs, hot dogs and hamburgers, pizza, and even peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. 

Do not use a comma before ‘or.’ For example:

CORRECT

To travel the 10-kilometer long rubberized path, Dizzy’s Rentals offers a choice of roller-blades, bicycles or kick scooters.

Dash

Use the dash, which traditionally has been two hyphens ” — ” giving one space on either of its side to set off a point you’d like to emphasize, with less formality than a colon, and with more emphasis than a comma would allow. For example:

CORRECT

The Dubai Gold Souk is a great place to pick up a few sparkling trinkets to take back home — including the world’s only 99-carat diamond!

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