More often than not, I find myself using a comma as sort of a pause. In most cases, it feels right. But I fear that I overuse commas and put them in places where they are not necessary.

Some examples:

  • Both of which, are valid.

  • I was going to go to work but, I felt sick.

I find myself using commas after words like "but" or "then". Most reference works I've consulted have defined these commas as a preference. Am I completely wrong here? Am I overusing commas and confusing my readers?

Any additional documentation on commas of this type would be greatly appreciated.

  • Yes, perfect. But could you tell me if my first example is correct? – Xogle Oct 2 '14 at 20:38
  • A style guide dictates the use of commas, which is a vast and searchable topic here (I have referenced one of hundreds of cases). Preference is important. I prefer not to use commas when I can help it. I would never use commas as you have, but I'm not you. – anongoodnurse Oct 2 '14 at 20:39
  • Yes, I love commas. I just wish I knew how to use them better. I figured if I was compiling professional writing, I would use a style guide. But this was asked for everyday writing, such as e-mails. – Xogle Oct 2 '14 at 20:40
  • Personally, I would call it incorrect. But then again, I wouldn't put a noticeable pause there. But then again again, if I were writing dialog for someone who likes to pause dramatically a lot, I'd use ellipses for the pauses, not commas. – Hellion Oct 2 '14 at 20:42

Neither of your examples holds water. People don’t usually use pauses where you’ve placed the commas here, unless trying to overdramatize, and then a comma is still not the correct way to indicate it in writing. For a dramatic pause you would use an m-dash, or an ellipsis. There may be exceptions, but I can’t think of any.

In an email to tell your boss that you weren’t coming in to work due to illness, you wouldn’t pause after but – if you were to pause, it would be after work.

In direct answer to your closing question, if your examples of how you’ve been using them are a fair sample, then yes you are overusing or misplacing commas.

I would suggest this source as a place for guidance on commas: Rules for Comma Usage.

  • 2
    I'm afraid that document is far more complicated than it needs to be. IF you're a native speaker of English, you can hear commas in speech, and when you do, you should use them. They represent a Mid-Low-High-Mid intonation contour, like you get when you count: sixty, sixty-one, sixty-two, sixty-three, .... It's easy to recognize and if you're a fluent reader, you're probly hearing it when you read, anyway. So just listen for it. The kind of partial rules that this site offers are confusing in their untidyness -- just a bunch of instances where you could hear a comma, that's all. – John Lawler Oct 2 '14 at 23:52
  • Yes, that works for a native speaker, but I am under the impression that Xogle is not one. His examples bear this out. – Cyberherbalist Oct 3 '14 at 1:44
  • Except that he lists his location as the US, so I stand corrected. – Cyberherbalist Oct 3 '14 at 2:05
  • 1
    I am native. I just focused more on computer science over grammar. :) – Xogle Oct 3 '14 at 17:51

You may not use a comma in either of those cases, but you may do so if they were something similar to:

...both of which, I have discovered, are valid.
I was about to go to work, but I called in sick.

The first one is a common enough usage that indicates a break to provide additional information. The second one has a comma because but is at the beginning of an independent clause.

Another example would be:

My husband, John Miller, is an engineer.

  • 2
    While I agree that comma usage in OP's examples is non-standard, and I'd certainly not encourage it, I have yet to hear anyone with the authority to pronounce 'you may not ...'. I know of style gurus quite happy for the 'non-grammatical' usage of commas merely to indicate pauses. Here, I'd use ellipsis {grammar.ccc.com}: The ellipsis can also be used to indicate a pause in the flow of a sentence and is especially useful in quoted speech: Jan thought and thought ... and then thought some more.// "I'm wondering ..." Jan said, bemused. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 2 '14 at 23:27

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