There are many different rules for comma usage, and unlike some other sorts of punctuation (e.g. the question mark, the period), the rules can be rather fluid. Here is a short-ish breakdown of how to use commas, and when to use commas:
- Use commas to separate items written in a series.
Example: The dog, the cat, and the goldfish agree that it is going to rain.
(There is a current debate about the comma after “cat” in the above sentence. It is the serial or Oxford comma, and is being eradicated from modern usage.)
- Use a comma to separate two or more adjectives (descriptive words) before a noun if the word order of the two could be reversed and the comma takes the place of “and.”
Example: The slumbering, snoring dog awoke with a start.
- Use a comma after a nonessential clause (which begins with who, whom, which or that and includes a verb).
Example: The innkeeper, who is still sleeping, prepared our breakfast the night before.
Follow These Rules for Comma Usage
- Use commas to set off direct addresses to a person.
Example: Joanne, please stop talking.
- Use commas to set off expressions which interrupt or introduce the sentence.
Example: Of course, I am right about the situation. However, you think you are too.
- Use a comma before a conjunction (and, but, or, for, nor, so) in a compound sentence.
Example: The little pig squealed, and I was moved to open its gate.
- Use commas to enclose an appositive (renaming) phrase.
Example: Evan Noble, the world-renowned wine sommelier, will speak at the convention tonight.
- Use commas to enclose nonessential (simply extra info) phrases.
Example: I love my snoring dog, with her white splotches and droopy face, more than I love my bed that she’s drooling on.
- Use a comma after an introductory clause at the beginning of a sentence.
Example: After shuffling, I dealt everyone seven cards.
- Use commas to separate and enclose separate items in dates and addresses, and after salutations in letters.
Example: Dear Dad,
Please forward my mail to 1676 Old Mill Road, Blissville, OH.
Originally Posted 9/10/2011 and happily updated 7/17/2017. Thanks for reading!
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