A Little Comma Sense

The Little Comma Sense

The cute little comma is the punctuation mark that is used more often than any other in the English language.  But sometimes it is used too much; sometimes it is not used enough.  A properly placed comma in a sentence makes the difference between having a sentence that is quickly understandable or one that leaves everyone confused.  For example:

Emma quit saying she was looking for work somewhere else.  (She quit talking).

Emma quit, saying she was looking for work somewhere else.  (She quit her job).

Don’t ignore the importance of a comma.  It can change the meaning of a sentence entirely.

Rule – Primary uses of the comma are:

To separate items in a series.

My shopping list consists of milk, bread, eggs, lettuce, and ice cream.

In this case, the final (or serial) comma after the next to last item in a series can be either way you like it.   Many people always use it just so they don’t have to analyze each sentence.  But others think it is superfluous.   Whatever you choose, be consistent.

To divide a sentence into separate clauses or phrases. If you pause in your speech, insert a comma in your writing.

After the ballgame, several of us went out to dinner.

               First of all, the new car is too expensive.

Exception – Commas may be omitted if phrases are short and if the sentence can be easily read.

If the catcher cannot catch the ball perhaps he should not play that position.

Exception – Use a comma with which; never with that. A which clause goes between commas and a that clause does not.

Dave’s car, which is a convertible, got wet when it rained. 

               Dave’s car is a convertible that got wet when it rained.

Commas are used to set off parenthetical elements.

The sales clerk, who seemed like a new employee, was not sure where to find what I asked for. (Correct) .

The sales clerk (who seemed like a new employee) was not sure where to find what I asked for. (Also correct).

Commas are used to set off addresses, dates, and numbers. Numbers are separated by a comma in groups of three, as in 1,000,000.

Exceptions – Some writers omit a comma between the state and the zip code in an address.  A comma is usually omitted when only the month and year are written.

Exception – A comma is omitted in street numbers and page numbers, as in page 1556, or 1032 Holly Street.

Commas are used in names, corporations, degrees and titles.

Foster Habersham, Jr.

Grant Putnam, Ph.D.

Penelope Roberts, D.V.M

Anytime Markets, Inc.

Commas are used in correspondence.

Dear Michael,

Kind regards,

Yours truly,

There are many less familiar uses for commas and many websites that can assist you with correct usage of commas.  Just google it.

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