Q. I write for a children’s magazine in which we sometimes provide suggestions for dialogue within the text of a paragraph. Inserting commas before the quotation marks seems disruptive. Would the following be acceptable? When you feel upset, saying “I’m frustrated” or “I need a minute to cool off” can help.
A. You’re right—sometimes the syntax eliminates the need for a comma. In this case “saying X” is a gerund phrase that acts as the subject of the verb “can help,” and it’s not ideal to put a comma in the middle of a subject phrase.