If you’ve ever scratched your head over when to use a comma, you’re in the right place.
In this blog post, we’ll explore the meaning behind commas, go over some rules, and walk through examples to make it all crystal clear.
No frills, just the essentials.
What Is A Comma?
A comma is a punctuation mark that plays a crucial role in structuring sentences and conveying meaning.
It is a small yet powerful symbol that helps organize ideas, signal pauses, and clarify relationships between different parts of a sentence.
The comma symbol is a simple, curved mark ( , ) used in writing.
When To Use A Comma
Commas are versatile punctuation marks that serve various functions in English writing. Here are some key comma rules:
Commas in Dates
Use commas to separate the day of the week and the year in a date. For example, “I have a meeting on Monday, December 5, 2022.”
Commas with Question Tags
Place a comma before a question tag to indicate a change in tone or to separate the main clause from the tag. For instance, “You’re coming to the party, aren’t you?”
Read further: What Is A Question Mark?
Commas in Address
When writing an address, commas are used to separate different elements of the address. The general format for a written address includes the following components:
- Recipient’s name
- Street address or P.O. Box
- City or locality
- State or province
- ZIP or postal code
- Country (if applicable)
Here’s an example with commas:
123 Main Street,
Note that the specific format may vary slightly depending on the country. For example, in some countries, the postal code may come before the city or be placed on a separate line.
Don’t forget to check the postal guidelines of the specific country you are sending mail to, as different countries may have different conventions for addressing mail. Additionally, when writing an address on an envelope, make sure to follow any postal service guidelines to ensure accurate and timely delivery.
Commas in Address
When addressing someone directly, use a comma to set off their name or the term of endearment. Consider the example, “Mary, could you please pass the salt?”
Commas with Introductory Phrases
An introductory phrase is a group of words that appears at the beginning of a sentence and provides additional information about the main clause. It often sets the scene, offers context, or introduces the subject.
Commas are used after introductory phrases to signal the transition from the introductory material to the main clause. This ensures clarity and helps readers understand the structure of the sentence.
Here are two examples:
- After finishing her novel, Sarah decided to take a long walk in the park.
- In the bustling city, the sounds of traffic became a constant hum in the background.
Commas with Appositives
An appositive is a noun or noun phrase that renames or explains another noun. You can use commas to set off nonrestrictive appositives, which means the information is not essential to the meaning of the sentence.
For example: My friend, a talented artist, painted a beautiful mural.
If the appositive is essential to the meaning of the sentence, do not use commas:
- The author Jane Austen is known for her novels.
Commas in a Series/Commas in a List
Use commas to separate items in a series (three or more items). This is known as the serial comma or Oxford comma. For example:
- I bought apples, oranges, and bananas.
The use of the Oxford comma can help avoid ambiguity and clarify the relationships between items in a list.
- I invited my parents, Lady Gaga, and Spider-Man. (Here, it’s clear that Lady Gaga and Spider-Man are not the speaker’s parents.)
Oxford Comma Meme
Commas inside Quotes
In American English, commas and periods always go inside the closing quotation mark.
- “I love pizza,” she said.
- He asked, “What time is the meeting?”
Note that in British English, punctuation is often placed outside the closing quotation mark unless it’s part of the quoted material:
- “I love pizza”, she said.
- He asked, “What time is the meeting”?
Comma before or after But
Insert a comma before “but” when connecting two independent clauses (complete thoughts). For example, “She wanted to go to the party, but she had to finish her work.”
Comma before a Conjunction in a Compound Sentence
When connecting two independent clauses with a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet), use a comma before the conjunction.
Example: She studied hard, and she passed the IELTS exam.
Comma before Because
Generally, omit a comma before “because” when it introduces a dependent clause. For instance, “He stayed indoors because it was raining.”
Comma before Such As
Use commas before “such as” when providing examples within a sentence. For example, “I enjoy various outdoor activities, such as hiking and camping.”
Comma before Which
Add a comma before “which” when introducing a nonrestrictive clause. For example, “The book, which I borrowed from the library, was fascinating.”
Commas with As Well As
Insert commas before “as well as” when used to add information.
Example: She is skilled in various arts, as well as being a talented musician.
Including But Not Limited To Commas
When you use the phrase “including but not limited to,” use a comma before the phrase.
Example: The workshop covers various topics, including but not limited to communication skills, time management, and problem-solving.
Semicolon Vs. Comma
Commas (,) and semicolons (;) are both punctuation marks that serve different purposes in writing.
Feel free to review the comma rules provided above at your own pace.
- Joining closely related independent clauses: The sun was setting; the sky turned shades of pink and orange.
- Separating items in a list when those items contain commas: My travel destinations include Paris, France; Rome, Italy; and Barcelona, Spain.
What Is A Comma Splice?
A comma splice occurs when two independent clauses (complete sentences that can stand alone) are incorrectly joined by a comma without the appropriate conjunction (and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet) or proper punctuation.
This is considered a punctuation error.
Comma Splice Example
Here’s an example of a comma splice:
I went for a walk, it was a beautiful day.
In this example, “I went for a walk” and “it was a beautiful day” are both independent clauses. They are connected only by a comma, which is a comma splice. To correct this, you can use a conjunction or choose a different punctuation mark:
I went for a walk, and it was a beautiful day.
I went for a walk; it was a beautiful day.
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