Comma Usage

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Commas are a fundamental part of the English language, both for writing and speaking. Commas, next to periods, are the most frequently used punctuation marks. However, the comma is commonly abused and misused. A comma provides a brief pause in a sentence. For example: Lucy, her sister, is going to join us at the park.

While they are physically small, commas are very powerful tools in writing and language that can change the meaning of a sentence.

These are a few examples of when it is appropriate to use a comma:

  • A comma can be used to separate an introductory word, phrase or clause from the main part of the sentence.

Karen studied and practiced a lot, passed her driver’s license test, and then was able to drive on her own.

  • It can join two independent clauses with a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, nor, for, so, or yet).

I bought a sweater for Kelly’s birthday, but Sarah bought Kelly the same sweater.

*The comma is placed after the first independent clause, not after the coordinating conjunction.
  • A comma can also set off introductory elements (a clause, phrase or words that come before the sentence).

After taking a nap, Tim felt ready to complete his homework.

*You do not need the comma if the sentence doesn’t sound like there is hesitancy or confusion without it.
  • A comma can set off parenthetical elements, or a part of the sentence that can be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence.

Eleanor, a strict professor, decided to test her students with a surprise pop quiz.

  • A comma can also separate coordinate adjectives.

She is a smart, hard working, distinguished young woman.

  • A comma can also separate quotes.

“The purpose of this class,” Alice said to her students, “is to help you with public speaking.” 

  • Commas can also be used to separate listed items.

I need to get milk, bread, and butter at the store today.

  • A comma can separate an appositive (a noun, noun phrase, or noun clause that describe another noun in a different way).

The dog, a German Shepherd, loved her owner more than anything.

  • A comma is used for dates and addresses.

Her birthday is on May 8, 1997.

Sheldon Macdonald
 134 Stone Drive
 Amherst, Massachusetts
01002

  • Commas are also helpful to avoid confusion.

My hobbies are cooking, dogs, and children vs. My hobbies are cooking dogs and children.

 

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It is tempting to use commas, but be careful not to overuse them.

INCORRECT: I am going to have a sandwich, and a glass of milk.

CORRECT: I am going to have a sandwich and a glass of milk.

*The comma there is not necessary because there isn’t a need for a pause in the sentence. If there was a third item listed then the comma would be necessary.
Sources used: (MLA)
“Commas.” Grammar Book. 2016. http://www.grammarbook.com/punctuation/commas.asp. Accessed 16 Sept. 2016.
Difference Between a Cat and a Comma? Quick Meme. http://www.quickmeme.com/meme/35837h. Accessed 17 Sept. 2016
“Rules for Comma Usage.” The Guide to Grammar and Writing. http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/commas.htm. Accessed 16 Sept. 2016.
Use a Comma. 2013. Meme Center. http://www.memecenter.com/search/comma. Accessed 17 Sept. 2016.
“What is an Appositive?” Grammar-Monster. http://www.grammar-monster.com/glossary/appositive_apposition.htm. Accessed Sept. 16 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 
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