Commas are important punctuation marks that help a reader to figure out what words in a sentence go together as well as what parts of the sentence are most important. Incorrect use of commas can really confuse a reader but don’t worry; using commas correctly can be easy if you follow a few simple guidelines.
Use commas to avoid confusion. For example:
- Let’s eat grandpa.
- Let’s eat, grandpa.
In the above example, if you do not use the comma correctly it is implied that you are going to eat grandpa instead of eating with grandpa.
Use commas for typographical reasons. For example:
- Between cities and states (Los Angeles, California)
- Between dates and years (April 22, 2013)
- Between names and titles when the title comes after the name (Bob Parker, Professor of Science)
Use commas to separate quotes. For example:
- When discussing his books, Stephen King said, “I try to create sympathy for my characters then turn the monsters loose.”
- “Prose is architecture,” said Ernest Hemingway, “not interior decoration.”
Use commas to separate elements in a series of three or more things. For example:
- She brushed her teeth, got dressed, and ran out the door to work.
- He turned on the television, flipped channels for a while, and finally found a great movie.
Use commas and conjunctions to connect two independent clauses. For example:
- He hit the ball well, but ran to the wrong base.
Note that the example above features a comma before the conjunction. A common error in comma usage is to place the comma after the conjunction. As a general rule the comma should come before the conjunction.
Use commas to separate two or more adjectives describing the same noun. For example:
- He was a happy, carefree child.
- She is an irritable, cranky child.
Commas are a fascinating type of punctuation that cause many disagreements among writers. Comma use can sometimes be confusing as their usage can sometimes vary. The tips above should help with comma usage and you will find more great information on correct comma usage in the resources included below.