1.Use a comma to indicate a break or pause within a sentence. The comma (“,”) is a very versatile punctuation mark. There are dozens of situations that might require the use of a comma. One frequent case is the appositive — a break within a sentence that supplements and adds information to the subject.

Here is an example of commas being used to create a break in a sentence:

Bill Gates, CEO of Microsoft, is the developer of the operating system known as Windows.

2.Use a comma when listing three or more items in a series. A common use of commas is to separate items that are being listed in a sequence. Usually commas are written between each of the items and between the second-to-last item and a subsequent conjunction.

  • However, many writers omit the comma before the conjunction (called a serial comma or “Oxford comma”), as conjunctions like “and” will signal the end of the list even without the final comma.
  • Here are two examples of commas used in listed series — one with an Oxford Comma and one without.

    The fruit basket contained apples, bananas, and oranges.

    The computer store was filled with video games, computer hardware and other electronic paraphernalia.

3.Use a comma to separate two or more adjectives describing a noun. Sometimes consecutive adjectives are used to describe a single subject with multiple qualities. This use of commas is similar to using them to separate items in a series, with one exception: it is incorrect to place a comma after the final adjective.

Here are examples of correct and incorrect comma usage when it comes to separating adjectives:

CORRECT: The powerful, resonating sound caught our attention.

INCORRECT: The powerful, resonating, sound caught our attention.

4.Use a comma to separate a larger geographical area from a smaller one located within it. Specific geographical places or areas are usually named by starting with the smallest location’s name and then proceeding to the larger area. For instance, you might refer to a specific city by naming the city itself, followed by the state or province it is in, followed by the surrounding country. Each geographic name (except the last) is followed by a comma. Note that a comma is used after the last (largest) geographical area if the sentence continues.

Here are two examples of correct comma usage when it comes to naming geographical areas:

I am originally from Hola, Tana River County, Kenya.

Los Angeles, California, is one of the largest cities in the United States.

5.Use a comma to separate an introductory phrase from the rest of the sentence.An introductory phrase (which is usually one or more prepositional phrases) briefly introduces the sentence and provides context but is not part of the sentence’s subject or predicate. Therefore, it should be separated from the main clause by a comma.

Here are two examples of sentences with introductory phrases separated from the rest of the sentence by commas:

After the show, John and I went out to dinner.

On the back of my couch, my cat’s claws have slowly been carving a large hole.

6.Use a comma to separate two independent clauses. Having two independent clauses in a sentence simply means that you could split the sentence into two shorter sentences while preserving the original meaning. If your sentence contains two independent clauses that are separated by a conjunction (such as and, as, but, for, nor, so, or yet), place a comma before the conjunction.

Here are two examples of sentences containing independent clauses:

Ryan went to the beach yesterday, but he forgot his sunscreen.

Water bills usually rise during the summer, as people are thirstier during hot and humid days.

7.Use a comma when making a direct address. When calling one’s attention by saying his/her name at the start of a sentence, separate the person’s name from the rest of the sentence with a comma. Note that this comma is somewhat rare in writing, because this is something normally done while speaking. It’s more common for a writer to employ other methods to indicate who is speaking to whom.

Here is an example of a direct address:

Amber, could you come here for a moment?

8.Use a comma to separate a direct quotation from the sentence introducing it. A comma should occur after the word immediately preceding a quotation that is being introduced with context or a description. On the other hand, it is not necessary to use a comma before an indirect quote (where you are paraphrasing someone’s words without quoting them exactly). Additionally, a comma is usually not necessary if you are not quoting an entire statement, but only a few words from it.

  • Here is an example of a direct quotation that requires a comma:

    While I was at his house, John asked, “Do you want anything to eat?”

  • Here is an example of an indirect quotation that does not require a comma:

    While I was at his house, John asked me if I wanted anything to eat.

  • Here is an example of a partial direct quotation, which, due to its brevity and its use within the sentence, does not require a comma:

    According to the client, the lawyer was “lazy and incompetent.”


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