[General] Advanced Comma Usage Questions

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I like to consider myself a highly proficient English speaker and writer. Recently, I have begun obsessing over comma usage -- hyper-analyzing their function and necessity, or lack thereof, in prose. I have concluded that when I write, I go with my "gut" -- what feels right -- when it comes to usage. My gut is informed by years of secondary education and experience, so its often right. I've also found that when analyzing -- going beyond the gut and into the conscious mind -- my tendency, quite possibly, is to make errors, a classic case of over-thinking. That said, forgive the naivety in the questions that follow; I know I am over-thinking things. Also, if you could offer any suggestions as to how to "chill out," and stop of the near analytic madness that I am finding myself plagued by, please do...I believe this is the stuff that engenders writer's block, and I don't want that to happen.

Does the comma in red below follow the conventions of English -- is its usage correct?

Johnny punched Tim with much force, like he was trying to replicate the punches he saw Tyson throw at Sam last night on TV.

I am ambivalent here. I tend to think it should (and certainly can) be included. But, then, I can counter with the following sentence, one in which I know the commas should undoubtedly be excluded:

The bullet left the gun like a bat out of hell.

And then we can counter back with the original sentence plus an adverb (see below) - the new product seems to scream "use a comma," but, to my knowledge, a subordinate clause used to conclude sentences need not be separated from the independent clause with a comma (s0 no comma...but it feels to right with one). Now I'm totally confused.

Johnny punched Tim with much force, almost like he was trying to replicate the punches he saw Tyson throw at Sam last night on TV.
Another example -- comma yes or comma no.

James strategically placed the metal figurines around the bike tire, like in a game of chess.

And finally:

I can’t seem to conquer it, almost like a never ending game of procrastination.

Now the question is, do we need to set off the adverb "honestly" below in commas -- what about the prepositional phrase, "in all honesty" (also below)? (Finally, what about the comma after "is" in previous sentence -- is that OK or not?)

I, honestly, can't say that I've heard anything as ludicrous as that.

My gut tells me the above sentence can go either way, it's just a matter of the author's intentions when it comes to emphasis.

I, in all honestly, am shocked with the accommodations.

My gut tells me that the format used above is best -- use commas here.

But then, what's the deal with sentences of this form: (why wouldn't it take a pair of commas between "in the past")

I have never in the past have had a problem with Dell.

Please help before I go crazy.


Feb 9, 2003
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American English
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I have never in the past [STRIKE]have [/STRIKE]had a problem with Dell.
The phrase "in the past" provides essential information. Thus, the sentence says:
I have never in the past had a problem with Dell (but I am having one now).
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