You Don't Need That Comma
by Cherie Tucker
There are times when you must not use a comma to separate words that
need to be together. When you are writing about only two things,
you donít separate them from each other with a comma. You wouldnít
write that you liked dogs, and cats. Nor would you say you stopped,
and looked. Itís easy to see how those commas are in the wrong
place, just as it would be with I, love you. Sometimes it isnít so
obvious, however. One of the most unwanted commas comes before the
and (or other conjunction) that joins two verbs that share
the same subject.
Jim watches every football game on TV and wishes there
No comma after TV. Jim watches and wishes. He is
doing two things, and you never separate that subject from what it
is doing with a single comma (see I, love you above). If there are
lots of words in the sentence before getting to the second verb,
however, writers tend to think that if they donít pause with a
comma, the reader wonít breathe.
Jim watches every football game that ever appears on TV from
the first kickoff of the season and wishes there were more.
Itís still just Jim watches and wishes. There is no
need for a comma before the and; the reader will continue to
If the sentence reads: He gripes about driving through all
this construction and fighting with the crazy drivers, you
donít need a comma before this and either. He gripes
about only two things: driving and fighting. Commas
arenít necessary until he gripes about three or more.
The same rule of commas with only two things applies with that
clauses as well, and these are the biggest traps for the unwary.
It was fine until Ross discovered that he had forgotten to
turn on the oven and [that] the guests were ringing the
In this case, Ross discovered two clauses that began with that,
even though the second that might be omitted. After he
discovered that he forgot the oven, he also discovered that
guests were at the door.
When you are proofing your rough draft, look closely at all the
commas and see if any of them are causing separations. Sometimes
these pairs belong, together.
Cherie Tucker, owner of GrammarWorks, has taught writing basics to
professionals since 1987, presenting at the PNWA conference.
She currently teaches Practical Grammar for Editors at the
University of Washingtonís Editing Certification program and edits