Comma Usage


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

  • Commas are also helpful to avoid confusion.

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



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. Accessed 16 Sept. 2016.
Difference Between a Cat and a Comma? Quick Meme. Accessed 17 Sept. 2016
“Rules for Comma Usage.” The Guide to Grammar and Writing. Accessed 16 Sept. 2016.
Use a Comma. 2013. Meme Center. Accessed 17 Sept. 2016.
“What is an Appositive?” Grammar-Monster. Accessed Sept. 16 2016







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