There are many punctuation marks in English, and out of all, a comma is one of the most notorious. There are a lot of rules associated with comma s. Therefore, it is obvious that people make mistakes while using it.
All the rules are highly precise, making it tough even for native English speakers than when which rule should be used. When commas are used incorrectly, it can change the meaning of the sentence. What is the difference between an independent clause and a dependent clause? What is a comma splice? We will help you understand everything you need to know about commas.
What is a comma? What is the point of a comma?
Commas are added wherever you wish to denote a shorter break. It gives you the option to take a soft pause on an ongoing sentence. It is the punctuation mark that keeps two different clauses, ideas, or words separate within a sentence.
When is a comma used?
It could be tricky to know when to use a comma. Therefore, it is necessary to remember each rule for properly use a comma.
Here are the comma rules:
Never use commas to separate subject and verbs
A comma should never separate a subject and its verb. However, writers tend to use a comma improperly and make this mistake. The reason is when people speak, they take a pause after the subject. However, it makes the sentence appear unnatural in the case of writing.
Example: My friend Kevin, dances well is an incorrect sentence. The correct one would be: My friend Kevin, dances well
One must take care of the above-mentioned point, especially while writing long and complex subjects.
Comma usage between two nouns (compound subject or object)
When two nouns are used together to form a compound subject or compound object, one must not separate them with a comma as it doesn’t make sense.
Kevin is going to eat apples, and bananas is an incorrect sentence. The correct one would be: Kevin is going to eat apples and bananas.
Comma usage between two verbs (compound predicate)
A compound predicate is the one in which the predicate contains more than one verb or verb phrase. The verbs share the same subject and are used together with the help of conjunction. We do not use a comma to separate the verbs which are part of the same compound predicate.
Kevin will do acting, and mimicry is an incorrect sentence. The correct one would be: Kevin will do acting and mimicry.
One especially needs to take care of comma usage the compound predicate is long and complex.
However, there is an exception. When not using a comma can make sentences ambiguous, you have to use it between 2 verbs or verb phrases of a compound predicate.
Kevin saw her mother coming, and opened the door. In this sentence, placing a comma before and shows the Kevin is the one who opened the door.
Comma splices- use of comma while joining two independent clauses
It is a common mistake that writers make. Whenever there are two independent clauses, you can join them using conjunction or semicolon. However, we do not use a comma for this purpose.
Alice hates parties, she likes to stay alone. It is an incorrect sentence. Instead of this, one can use:
- Alice hates parties; she likes to stay alone.
- Alice hates parties, because she likes to stay alone.
Comma usage after introductory phrase
If a sentence starts with a participial phrase, we often use a comma after the phrase ends to separate it from the rest of the sentence.
Example: Crossing the street, Jason got hit by a car.
In the case of adverbial phrase, it is not required when the sentence is short. However, in the case of small adverbial phrases where you need to emphasize it, using comma is recommended.
Example: After the class, we will meet kate.
One also needs to add a comma after the adverbial phase for the sake of the sentence’s clarity.
Example: Consider these two sentences:
- After cooking drinks were served. –It is ambiguous and doesn’t make sense.
- After cooking, drinks were served.- It explains that drinks were served when cooking was done.
Commas while making a comparison
People generally don’t know when to use comma while making a comparison. It is a strict rule that one must not use before ‘than’ while doing a comparison.
Example: Kevin is taller, than kate is an incorrect sentence. The correct one would be: Kevin is taller than kate.
Commas with interrupters
Interrupters are small word phrases used to display the emotion or tone of a sentence. It is necessary to set off interrupters by adding a comma before and after the interrupter.
Example: It was happily the last day of exams is an incorrect sentence. The correct one would be: It was, happily, the last day of exams
Commas used before a question tag
A question tag is a word or small phrase used when you need to turn a sentence into a question. A question tag is one of the essential elements of conversational writing. Before a question tag, it is necessary to place a comma.
Example: I think I am not looking good, am I? Here, it is essential to put a comma before am I usage.
Comma’s use while addressing a person
When one addresses a person by adding his name in the sentence, it is required to set off the name by putting a comma.
Example: Kevin there is a call for you is an incorrect sentence. The correct one would be: Kevin, there is a call for you.
Commas with an appositive
An appositive is used to provide additional information about a noun used in the same sentence. There are 2 types of appositives: essential and non-essential. When you add a non-essential apposite to the sentence, you need to keep it separate from the rest of the sentence by using a comma before and after it. In the case of non-essential appositives, comma is not required.
Let’s consider the first case of non-essential appositive: My dad, Harry, works at the fire station. You need to put a comma to set-off harry. It is not necessary to add the name as its nonessential.
Now, let’s come to an example of an essential appositive: My friend Raj is going to NASA. There can be multiple friends, so the name of a friend is essential information.
Comma usage while writing dates
There are four different ways of writing dates, and each one has a different usage of the comma.
- Month-Date-Year: Comma is placed before the year: August 2, 1886.
- Day-Month-Year: Comma is not required: 31 July 1992
- Day of a week-Month-Date: Use Comma after the day of the week, and also after the date: Tuesday, October 11.
- Month-Year: No use of Comma: May 1991
Comma before or after but
Only use a comma before but when it is joining 2 independent clauses. There is no need for it if the sentence has a dependent clause and not independent clauses.
Example: He is a good man but he gets selfish sometimes is an incorrect sentence. The correct one would be: He is a good man, but he gets selfish sometimes. Here but joins 2 different clauses. Therefore, comma is required before but.
Let’s consider a second sentence: He is good looking but short. Here, there are no different clauses.
When to use a comma before and
When there are only two items in listing, comma is not used.
Example: I went to the market for purchasing eggs and bread.
However, if there are more than two items, the sentence will be: I went to the market for purchasing eggs, sauce, and bread.
Normally, it is used before ‘and’ when ‘and’ is joining two different clauses.
Listing things- Oxford comma
You need to place a comma while listing three or more things. However, the comma before ‘and’ is optional. It is called a serial comma or Oxford comma.
Consider the sentence mentioned in the previous section: I went to the market for purchasing eggs, sauce, and bread. The sentence is correct. However, if you remove the Oxford comma added before and, the sentence will still be right: I went to the market for purchasing eggs, sauce and bread.
Though it’s normally optional to put Oxford comma, you must add it when you need to be clearer. Not using it, in this case, may change the meaning of the sentence.
Example: I dedicate my winning prize to my parents, Kevin and Laura. Here, it indicates that Kevin and Laura are the names of the winner’s parents.
However, if they are two different people, let’s say, friends, then the sentence would be: I dedicate my winning prize to my parents, Kevin, and Laura. This clarifies that the winner is dedicating the prize to two more people in addition to his parents.
Commas for separating a verb and object associated with it
It’s a simple rule that one must not separate the transitive verb from its direct object using a comma.
John said, he likes ice cream is an incorrect sentence. The correct one would be: John said he likes ice cream.
Commas with non-restrictive clause and restrictive clause
A non-restrictive clause provides extra information regarding a word already mentioned in the sentence. However, the information is not necessary. It can be removed, and the sentence will still be meaningful. For this case, setting off the clause using comma is essential.
Consider the sentence: Posey’s Restaurant, which Kevin recommended, is amazing. Here, if the phrase ‘which Kevin recommended’ is removed, the sentence will still be meaningful.
However, the restrictive clause provides one with essential information. That clause cannot be removed. In this case, a comma is not used.
Now take another sentence: The restaurant that Kevin recommended is amazing. Now, here ‘that Kevin recommended’ is necessary to include as it shows about which specific restaurant one is talking.
Never use commas along with coordinating conjunctions
These Conjunctions are the ones that come in pairs (not only/but, either/or, whether/or, etc.). You don’t need to put a comma before using such conjunctions.
You can come here not only for dinner, but also for stay is an incorrect sentence. The correct one would be: You can come here not only for dinner but also for stay.
Consider another sentence: Let me know whether you will come, or not is an incorrect sentence. The correct one would be: Let me know whether you will come or not.
Commas while using direct quotes
One needs to place a comma to separate attribute tags and quotation marks. The comma is used just before the quotation mark. Also, one should not utilize it when there is another punctuation used just before the quotation.
“You are a liar”, said Ahmed angrily is an incorrect sentence. The correct one would be: “You are a liar,” said Ahmed angrily.
Consider another one where a punctuation mark is already used in a direct quote. “You are a liar,”! Said Ahmed angrily is an incorrect sentence. The correct one would be: “You are a liar!” Said Ahmed angrily.
Does my sentence need a comma? –Exclusive Rules
- It is not required to place a comma for separating an article and its following noun.
The, Eiffel Tower is Beautiful is an incorrect sentence. The correct one would be: The Eiffel Tower is Beautiful.
- One needs to set-off the phrase used along with ‘as well as’ with a comma when it forms a non-restrictive clause. Consider this sentence showing the correct usage: Attractive flowers, such as rose and lily, are best for Valentine Decoration.
- You can add a comma before ‘too’ for emphasis.
You should eat bananas too, or you should eat bananas, too, both are correct.