Commas are among the most misused and overused punctuations in the English Grammar. As there are many rules pertaining to the usage of commas, its abuse isn’t too surprising. While there are often many subtle aspects to look out for, here are the ways you can correctly use the comma.
Comma – What Is It?
Denoting a tinier break in any sentence, commas are softer to use than periods. Used in sentences for a mild interruption, commas are used to separate different words and clauses.
Subject, Verbs and Commas
While there are exceptions, commas should not be placed between subjects and their verbs. While people pause between subjects and their verbs when speaking, the sentence structure looks unnatural if written that way.
Example: Dr. Williams, is my brother. (Incorrect)
Dr. Williams is my brother. (Correct)
When there is a unique, long or complicated sentence structure, it is important to not get confused about the placement of commas.
Example: Everything that is a part of wildlife sanctuaries, needs to be protected. (Incorrect)
Everything that is a part of wildlife sanctuaries needs to be protected. (Correct)
I need to buy eggs, bread, cereal, and cheese, from the grocery shop. (Incorrect)
I need to buy eggs, bread, cereal, and cheese from the grocery shop. (Correct)
Commas and Nouns in a Compound Subject or Object
Nouns placed together as a compound subject or compound object should not be separated by commas. If a subject or an object consists of two or more things and the last thing is in parentheses, placing a comma between them is appropriate. However, if two things are plainly listed, there is no need of a comma between them.
Example: Dr. Williams, and Dr. Hugh will be giving a speech. (Incorrect)
Dr. Williams and Dr. Hugh will be giving a speech. (Correct)
Comma and Verbs in a Compound Predicate
A compound predicate is when the subject of any sentence contains two or more verbs. When punctuating compound predicates, it is a grammatical error to place commas between two verbs. This error is commonly made when punctuating predicates that contain long verb phrases.
Example: She was supposed to collect the cheque, but she fell sick. (Incorrect)
She was supposed to collect the cheque but she fell sick. (Correct)
Unless it could be misread, commas should not be used in compound predicates. In the below example, the comma needs to be placed to clarify that it was Natalie who grinned, not the small boy.
Example: Natalie saw a small boy who ran towards her, and grinned.
All About Comma Splices
A conjunction or a semicolon is required to join two independent clauses together. Placing a comma, instead of a conjunction or a semicolon, is called a comma splice. This error can easily be fixed by placing an appropriate conjunction or replacing the comma with a semicolon. Another easy fix is to just write the two independent clauses as two different sentences.
Example: She needed her glasses, I got it for her. (Incorrect)
She needed her glasses, so I got it for her. (Correct)
She needed her glasses so I got it for her. (Correct)
She needed her glasses; I got it for her. (Correct)
She needed her glasses. I got it for her. (Correct)
Comma After Introductory Phrase
To introduce a sentence, commas are typically placed after participial phrases:
Example: Before heading to school, Robert always plays video games.
Commas often come after adverbial phrases introduce a sentence. However, if the adverbial phrase is short, it isn’t compulsory to add a comma. A good rule of thumb to follow is to place a comma if the adverbial phrase is longer than four words.
Commas can also be used after short phrases if there is a desire for adding significance, literary effect or short pause. However, do not skip the comma if there is any chance of writing a misleading sentence.
Example: After many weeks, I finally went for a long hike.
Finally, Goodwin bakeries have opened a new franchise.
Commas and Comparisons
In sentences that contain comparisons, avoid using commas before or after the word than.
Example: She is a lot tougher, than she looks. (Incorrect)
She is a lot tougher than she looks. (Correct)
As it contains logical thinking, math is easier than, art. (Incorrect)
As it contains logical thinking, math is easier than art. (Correct)
Commas and Interrupters or Parenthetical Elements
Interrupters are written in the middle of sentences to portray emotion, tone or emphasis. Parenthetical elements are phrases containing additional information that are written within parentheses. A key factor of a parenthetical element is that despite being erased from a sentence, it can’t alter the sentence’s meaning. Both interrupters and parenthetical elements should be written alongside commas.
Example: I despite my ill health earned a promotion. (Incorrect)
I, despite my ill health, earned a promotion. (Correct)
Selling his vintage furniture unfortunately was the only option left. (Incorrect)
Selling his vintage furniture, unfortunately, was the only option left. (Correct)
Commas and Question Tags
Used at the end of sentences, question tags are small phrases or single words that turn statements into questions. A good use of question tags is to persuade readers to concur with the statement. It is vital to write a question tag after placing a comma.
Example: It is a good decision to buy a car, right?
This dress looks good on you, doesn’t it?
Commas and Direct Addresses
Precede personal names or titles with a comma when addressing to them.
Example: Dad, we need to leave now!
Mr. Williamson, do you need help?
Commas and Appositives
A word or phrase, appositives mention the same thing as a different noun in that particular sentence. Providing extra information, appositives help in understanding or differentiating the context of the matter. If appositives can be erased without affecting the sentence’s message, it is then called nonessential appositives and should be accompanied with commas. Alternatively, the appositive shouldn’t be accompanied by commas if it is essential.
Example: My friend, Will, is going on a road trip. (Nonessential Appositive)
Susan and her pet dog Bones is going on a road trip. (Essential Appositive)
Commas and Dates
Accompany the year with commas when you write in the month-day-year format. However, commas are not needed if you are using the day-month-year format. When making an acknowledgment to a particular day or date, remember to place a comma. If you are writing a month and a year, you can skip the comma.
Example: She gave birth on Monday, June 2, 1991.
The deadline lasts till 13 July 2018.
She got married to her childhood sweetheart on Wednesday, April 15, 1999.
The new millennium began on the first of January 2000.
Comma Between Coordinate Adjectives
To be separated by commas, coordinate adjectives occur when many adjectives equally modify a noun. This is a good rule of thumb to follow when figuring out if they are coordinate adjectives or not: change the order of the sentence. If it sounds articulate and natural, it is a coordinate adjective.
Example: The harsh, dry, arid and hot desert played tricks on my mind.
However, if the sentence doesn’t contain coordinate adjectives, refrain from separating them with commas.
Example: The hot, arid desert played tricks on my mind. (Incorrect)
The hot dry desert played tricks on my mind. (Correct)
Commas and But
When joining two independent clauses, place a comma before the word but. However, if the word but isn’t instrumental in joining two independent clauses, it’s best to skip the comma.
Example: My friend Nick is a singer, but he is an even better actor.
Nick is a great singer but would succeed more if he becomes an actor.
Commas and And
If a sentence has a list consisting of just two items, a comma should not be placed before the word and. Correcting comma splices, where two independent clauses are joined by an appropriate conjunction, place the comma before the word and.
Example: Andy is good at math, and science. (Incorrect)
Andy is good at math and science. (Correct)
I reached the office and my boss called an emergency meeting. (Incorrect)
I reached the office, and my boss called an emergency meeting. (Correct)
Commas and Lists
If a sentence consists of a list that has more than two things, place commas between each thing to separate them. Lists can consist of a number of nouns, verbs, adjectives or clauses.
Example: She worked through the day, studied through the night, and aced her exams.
Serial Commas or Oxford Commas
As stated above, commas should separate things on a list that contains three or more items. However, the placing of the last comma before the word and is optional. This type of placement of a comma is called a serial or an Oxford comma.
Example: Jane likes reading, painting, rock climbing and swimming. (Without Serial Comma)
Jane likes reading, painting, rock climbing, and swimming. (With Serial Comma)
The use of serial commas depends on the personal preference of a style choice. It doesn’t necessarily need to be used. However, if you choose to do so, keep your style consistent. Although, sometimes, using the Oxford comma is required to enable better clarity.
Commas, Verbs and Objects
When punctuating with a comma, avoid separating transitive verbs from its direct object.
Example: Eve said, she loves to play tennis. (Incorrect)
Eve said she loves to play tennis. (Correct)
Commas and Nonrestrictive Clauses
Offering additional information about things stated in a sentence, it doesn’t necessarily indicate the things it is referring to. To be followed by a comma, nonrestrictive clauses typically begin with which or who. A good way to identify nonrestrictive clauses is if the clause is removed, the sentence should still make sense.
Example: My brother’s laptop, that he loved, got stolen.
Commas and Restrictive Clauses
Providing additional information about things raised in a sentence, it provides valuable details that are important to understanding the sentence. Never to be followed by commas, restrictive clauses usually begin with that or who. A good way to identify restrictive clauses is if the clause is removed, the sentence will not make sense.
Example: The laptop that my brother uses got stolen.
Comma Between Correlative Conjunctions
Conjunctions that come in pairs, correlative conjunctions join words or phrases are used to convey complex ideas in sentences. When writing correlative conjunctions, commas are not usually needed. Some common correlative conjunctions are: either/or, neither/nor, and not only/but also.
Example: Quickly choose either cereals, or pancakes for your breakfast. (Incorrect)
Quickly choose either cereals or pancakes for your breakfast. (Correct)
Commas, Direct Quotes and Attributive Tags
Attributive tags recognize and establish the identity of the speaker of a piece of dialogue or quote. To be followed by commas, attributive tags can be placed at any part of a sentence. However, commas can be skipped if a quotation, that is placed before an attributive tag, ends in a question mark or exclamation mark.
Example: Connor said, “Thank you, I am doing well.”
“How are you doing?” Connor asked.
Commas Inside Quotation Marks
Commas are always used before quotation marks in American English. In British English, however, commas are always used after closing the quotation mark.
Example: “Pass me the salt,” said Amanda. (In British English)
His father called, “We’re going to the doctor immediately”. (In American English)
Commas and Parentheses
Used to provide additional information, parentheses are used instead of a nonrestrictive clause to avoid disturbing the natural flow of a sentence. While commas can punctuate a sentence after closing parenthesis, it must not be used before either the opening or the closing parenthesis. A good rule to follow is to not add commas if the sentence doesn’t need them if parentheses weren’t used.
Example: Jamie knows, (but doesn’t tell), her family’s secret recipe. (Incorrect)
Jamie knows (but doesn’t tell) her family’s secret recipe. (Correct)
Commas Articles and Nouns
Commas should never be placed in between an article and a noun. Despite pausing when speaking, there isn’t any need to have one in writing. If there is a need to use a pause in writing, use an ellipsis.
Example: She has moved the meeting, to the first week of June. (Incorrect)
She has moved the meeting to the first week of June. (Correct)
He loves to, draw and paint. (Incorrect)
He loves to… draw and paint. (Correct)
Commas and As Well As
While it there is no need to use commas with the phrase “as well as”, it is essential to use commas if the phrase is a part of a nonrestrictive clause.
Example: Don’t forget to wear your jacket as well as a pair of gloves.
Wearing a jacket, as well as a pair of gloves, is essential to staying warm.
Commas and Such As
When introducing nonrestrictive clauses, the phrase “such as” needs commas following it. However, when introducing restrictive clauses, the commas can be skipped.
Example: Tasty fruits, such as apples and oranges, are very healthy.
Fruits such as apples and oranges are both tasty and healthy.
Commas and Too
While a comma can be placed before the word too, it is only to add significance or emphasis. That is why, this particular rule is optional.
Example: I like books too. (Correct)
I like books, too. (Correct)