Chicago Style Workout 60: Commas

Comma Sense

Commas play at least two main roles in ordinary prose. They can set off words, phrases, and clauses—including direct quotations, questions, and thoughts—from the surrounding sentence. And they can be used between coordinate adjectives and other items in a series.

The tricky thing about commas is they’re sometimes optional, but that’s not the focus here. Instead, this quiz tests your ability to recognize when commas would usually be required versus when they would be considered incorrect. To test your comma sense, take the quiz.

Subscribers to The Chicago Manual of Style Online may click through to the linked sections of the Manual (cited in several of the answers). (For a 30-day free trial of CMOS Online, click here.)

Note: Style guides sometimes disagree. The answers in this quiz are based on the recommendations in chapter 6 of the 17th edition of CMOS.

Chicago Style Workout 60: Commas

1. The results from June 5, 2021 are now available.
2. Twitter is a popular, if controversial, source of news.
3. The tortoise finished one minute, thirty seconds ahead of the hare.
4. The author’s riveting, three-page conclusion broke new ground.
5. “Austin, Texas is one of the Gulf States,” I said to my friend.
6. Who was it who said, “To be, or not to be, that is the question”?
7. “Are you sure?,” I asked.
8. Whatever will be will be.
9. “Yes, we’ll be there,” I said.
10. A class-action lawsuit was filed in 2017 three years after the app debuted.


Top image: “The Hare and the Tortoise,” hand-colored wood engraving by Joseph Swain, from an illustration by Charles H. Bennett, in The Fables of Æsop and Others, Translated into Human Nature (London, 1857). Scanned by Simon Cooke for the Victorian Web.

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2 thoughts on “Chicago Style Workout 60: Commas

  1. Wow, #5 was tricky! And regarding #6, couldn’t the clause in quotes be considered the direct object of “said,” in which case the comma after “said” would be incorrect?

    • You are right about question 6! The comma after “said” before a quotation is conventional—and therefore “correct” (the answer we were looking for)—but it isn’t strictly logical. Substitute “that” for the quotation in the example sentence and there would be no comma: Who was it who said that? To see where CMOS draws the line relative to such commas, compare paragraphs 13.14 and 13.15.

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