Ways & How

how to use commas correctly

how to use commas correctly

Commas are tricky little things. Unless we are writers of a certain caliber, or editors, little do we know where exactly to put commas, why commas should be used instead of other punctuation marks or how to use commas correctly. But for all their sneakiness, commas must follow certain rules. Knowing these rules will help us master their use. When we write as we speak, we tend to put commas where we would naturally pause for breath. It’s a good basic guide, but it’s not always correct. There are other rules to remember besides. Below we will see where and when to use commas.

  1. When you have a list of three or more items in a series, but not when there are only two.

    For example: “We chopped, sliced, and cooked the vegetables.”

    But not here: “We were prepared to play and to win.”

  2. When you need to separate an introductory phrase.

    For example: “While driving, he glanced at the rearview mirror to check behind him.

  3. When setting apart a transitional expression.

     “He warned, however, that the test could be difficult.”

  4. When setting apart a parenthetical word or phrase.

    “The child, although small, is strong and healthy.”

  5. When setting apart an appositive. “Appositives” are words or phrases that rename or describe something in a different way.

    For example: “The car, a Mercedes, sped along the highway.”

  6. When setting apart a non-restrictive clause. “Non-restrictive clauses” are phrases that provide more information but are not important to the meaning of the sentence; if you remove them, the sentence will still make sense.

    For example: “The cookies, baked to a crisp and sprinkled with sugar, tasted good.”

  7. When separating two clauses having a single subject that are connected by any of the “Fan Boys”. “Fan boys” is a mnemonic aid to remember these words: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so. However, this rule does not apply if each of the clauses has a different subject.

    For example: “They went to get pizza, but came back with ice cream.” (“They” is the subject in both clauses.) But not here: “They went to get pizza but the store was closed.” (In the first clause, “They” is the subject, but in the second, the subject is “store”.)

  8. When separating an independent clause (phrase that expresses a complete idea) from a dependent clause (phrase that needs an independent clause in order to make sense).

    For example: “When the bell rang (dependent clause), the students all rushed to their classrooms (independent clause).”

  9. When separating the day from the year, and also after the year, but not when any part of the date is omitted.

    For example: “In December 19, 2000, there was a huge fire in our town.”

    But not here: “The boy was born in December 2010.”

  10. When separating city from state.

    For example: “My aunt lives in Redwood City, California.”

  11. When using a name or title that directly addresses a person.

    For example: “Will you, John, take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife?”

  12. When separating an adjective ending with “ly” from other adjectives.

    For example: “They were a couple of lonely, troubled misfits.”

  13. When there are two adjectives where the word “and” can be used between them.

    For example: “Percy grew up to be a rugged, handsome man.”

Commas, like other punctuation marks, must follow certain rules in order to make sense. Knowing these rules will help you know when it is appropriate to use them. The rules above will help you greatly when trying to determine how to use commas correctly. If you learn them by heart, commas need not confound you again.


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