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Nothing strikes fear and terror into the hearts of writers quite like the comma. Proper punctuation is important in writing as it makes our sentences clear and easier to read. Of all of the punctuation marks we use, the comma is especially versatile and has many different possible uses, sometimes within one sentence. This widespread usage comes at a significant price. There are many rules regarding commas, and this single punctuation mark is often the cause of many grammatical mistakes. If the comma causes you confusion, you are not the only one. Let’s see if we can make commas a little bit more manageable by learning more about them.
What is a comma (,)?
A comma is a punctuation mark that represents a short pause and is used to divide parts of a sentence. A comma usually resembles a dot with a tail (,) and is placed at the bottom of a line of text or writing. The comma has many, many different uses and is often the punctuation mark that people have the most difficulty with.
When do you use a comma?
There are a lot of different reasons why we use commas. We are going to very briefly look at a variety of instances when we commas.
When writing a list or series, we separate each member of the group with a comma. Typically, we use a conjunction such as and or or before the last member. For example,
- She can speak English, Spanish, French, and Japanese.
The final comma in a series is known as the Oxford comma. Depending on which style guide you use, the Oxford comma might be considered optional.
Joining independent clauses
A comma can be used to join two or more independent clauses together. If we use a comma this way, we follow it with a coordinating conjunction (for, as, nor, but, or, yet, so) before introducing the next independent clause. For example,
- I love dogs, and dogs love me.
- He wanted to be a sailor, but he couldn’t swim.
Following an introductory word or phrase
If we use a word, phrase, or dependent clause to introduce a sentence, we follow the introduction with a comma:
- Luckily, it didn’t rain on our parade.
- Thinking quickly, Osmodeus cast an invisibility spell.
- When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
If we use multiple adjectives before the same noun, we separate them with commas if they are coordinate adjectives. In short, coordinate adjectives can have their order switched around without changing the meaning of the sentence. You can learn more about identifying and using coordinate adjectives in our explanation of adjective order.
- The lazy, clumsy, hairy dog took a nap by the fireplace.
Nonrestrictive words, phrases, and clauses
When we use a modifying word or phrase to refer back to a noun, we separate it out with commas if it is nonrestrictive. In general, a nonrestrictive modifier is one that can be removed without changing the meaning or clarity of a sentence. For example,
- Nonrestrictive modifier: The current president of the actor’s fan club, Papa Razzi, is really popular. (The club only has one current president so their name is not needed to identify them)
- Restrictive modifier: The legendary detective Sherlock Holmes could solve any mystery. (We don’t know who the legendary detective is without naming them)
This same general rule applies to nonrestrictive clauses:
- The baseball card, which was badly damaged, was worth millions of dollars. (We would still know the identity of the particular card even without the nonrestrictive clause.)
A comma is used to introduce a quote:
- She asked, “Where is the post office?”
If a quote is not at the end of a sentence and doesn’t end in a question mark or exclamation point, we typically follow the last word with a comma:
- “I was here yesterday,” the customer said.
We use commas to separate out interrupting words or phrases from a main sentence:
- I would ask, if I may be so bold, that you please move your car.
- That guy over there is, trust me on this, someone you should avoid.
When directly addressing a person or group, we separate them out using commas:
- Steve, I found your striped sweater.
- It seems, my friends, that we need a new plan.
Numbers, dates, and addresses
When writing large numbers, we use commas to divide the thousands, millions, billions, trillions, etc.
- The city is home to 1,234,567 people.
When writing dates in the Month-Day-Year format, we use a comma before the year.
- Napoleon Bonaparte was born on August 15, 1769.
When writing addresses, we separate each part of the address with commas:
- My friend Bart Simpson lives at 742 Evergreen Terrace, Springfield, West Dakota.
What about greeting cards? Learn about the right way to start and sign off that birthday card to grandma!
How to use a comma
There are a few common mistakes to watch out for when using commas.
Avoid the comma splice
A comma splice or comma fault occurs when a writer uses a comma without a conjunction to connect independent clauses. Most grammar resources consider this to be an error; a comma needs a conjunction in order to connect two independent clauses.
- Comma splice: The director wanted to film in Italy, it was too expensive.
- Fixing comma splice: The director wanted to film in Italy, but it was too expensive.
Instead of a comma, you can use a colon or semicolon to connect two independent clauses without using a conjunction. Alternatively, you could simply use a period and make them two separate sentences.
Be careful of compound subjects and predicates
Compound subjects and predicates are often connected by conjunctions such as and or or. However, the pieces of compound subjects and predicates are not separated from each other by commas.
❌ Incorrect: Jenny, and Benny, went to the store. ✅ Correct: Jenny and Benny went to the store.
❌ Incorrect: I bought a new computer, and used it to write my novel. ✅ Correct: I bought a new computer and used it to write my novel.
If a compound subject or predicate involves more than two elements, it will often be written as a series, which means it will then need commas:
✅ Correct: Jenny, Benny, and Lenny went to the store. ✅ Correct: I bought a new computer, set it up in my office, and used it to write my novel.
Subordinate clauses are a type of dependent clause that modify another independent clause. Subordinate clauses typically begin with subordinating conjunctions such as because, since, and as. It is considered a grammatical error to use a comma before a subordinating conjunction. For example,
❌ Incorrect: I stayed home from school, because I was sick. ✅ Correct: I stayed home because I was sick.
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Top 13 when do you use a coma edit by Top Q&A
When to Use Commas in German
- Author: deutsch.lingolia.com
- Published Date: 01/25/2022
- Review: 4.99 (955 vote)
- Summary: Do we always use a comma before dass? The short answer: almost always. The conjunction dass introduces a subordinate clause, meaning that it usually follows …
When do you use a comma?
- Author: apastyle.apa.org
- Published Date: 02/08/2022
- Review: 4.72 (232 vote)
- Summary: Do not use a comma. before an essential or restrictive clause, that is, a clause that limits or defines the material it modifies. Removal of such a clause …
Extended Rules for Using Commas
- Author: owl.purdue.edu
- Published Date: 06/17/2022
- Review: 4.54 (561 vote)
- Summary: 1. Use commas to separate independent clauses when they are joined by any of these seven coordinating conjunctions: and, but, for, or, nor, so, …
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Comma Before or After And | Rules & Examples
- Author: scribbr.com
- Published Date: 06/16/2022
- Review: 4.28 (418 vote)
- Summary: As a general rule, you don’t need a comma after and. Even if you start a sentence with an introductory “and,” you should not place a comma after …
Is it grammaticaly correct to place a comma after “and”?
- Author: theguardian.com
- Published Date: 11/12/2022
- Review: 4.02 (332 vote)
- Summary: If you’re using the comma as one of a pair surrounding a subordinate clause then it would be correct. … If the question refers to commas in a list of things, …
Comma Rules | Style and Grammar | Academic Writing
- Author: brandeis.edu
- Published Date: 06/04/2022
- Review: 3.91 (488 vote)
- Summary: Use commas to separate independent clauses when they are joined by any of these seven coordinating conjunctions: and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet. Example: I …
Is car insurance cheaper when you pay off your car
Commas (Eight Basic Uses): IU East
- Author: iue.edu
- Published Date: 03/23/2022
- Review: 3.68 (504 vote)
- Summary: Rule: Use a comma after an introductory clause or phrase. A comma tells readers that the introductory clause or phrase has come to a close and that the main …
Comma before whereas, while, and although
- Author: jakubmarian.com
- Published Date: 02/06/2022
- Review: 3.43 (482 vote)
- Summary: The rule of thumb is: When you contrast two things, use a comma. “Whereas” is typically used to contrast two things: correct I am very tall, whereas my wife is …
Does a Comma Always Precede And?
- Author: languagetool.org
- Published Date: 03/27/2022
- Review: 3.32 (422 vote)
- Summary: Does a Comma Always Precede “And”? · A comma signals a pause between parts of a sentence. · When writing a list of three or more, the use of an Oxford comma …
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Commas | Comma Rules and Usage
- Author: grammarbook.com
- Published Date: 08/25/2022
- Review: 3.15 (492 vote)
- Summary: Commas and periods are the most frequently used punctuation marks. Commas customarily indicate a brief pause; they’re not as final as periods. Rule 1. Use …
Rules for Using Commas – Grammarly
- Author: grammarly.com
- Published Date: 04/05/2022
- Review: 2.92 (198 vote)
- Summary: When an adverbial phrase begins a sentence, it’s often followed by a comma but it doesn’t have to be, especially if it’s short. As a rule of …
The comma | EF | Global Site
- Author: ef.com
- Published Date: 01/07/2022
- Review: 2.85 (146 vote)
- Summary: There are some general rules which you can apply when using the comma. … modifying another adjective you do not separate them with a comma (sentence 3).
Comma – The Punctuation Guide
- Author: thepunctuationguide.com
- Published Date: 03/03/2022
- Review: 2.66 (159 vote)
- Summary: Rule: Do not use a comma before a coordinating conjunction if the sentence contains only one independent clause. Examples. She purchased the car but not the …