English - Commas

About

Commas are used in a variety of ways when punctuating clauses, phrases, and the four sentence types.

A common mistake you may have been taught about commas is that if there is a pause, you need to insert a comma. Instead, if you understand how commas work in sentences, then you can think through whether or not you need a comma.

Categories

There are many rules for commas. When you reread your paragraph, look closely at each comma to see if it fits into one of the following categories.

Commas with Introductory Elements

Use a comma after a word, phrase, or subordinate clause that precedes the main clause.

  • Finally, the antelope gave up and succumbed to the superior strength of the lion.
  • Humming softly to herself, Wilhelmina explored every inch of the hardware store.
  • Although he appeared innocent at first, the man’s story began to break down under the scrutiny of the detective’s questions.

Commas in a Series

Use a comma in between items in a series. In formal academic writing, the last comma is usually preferred.

  • Would you like one, two, or three scoops?
  • Clarence’s special trail mix contained peanuts, chili peppers, malt balls, and dried apricots.
  • Her analysis of the story argued that Leticia was actually confused upon first meeting Oscar, Mary herself benefited from the purloined letter, and the outcome of the story was comic rather than tragic.

Commas with Coordinating Conjunctions

Comma after the first clause and before the coordinating conjunction in a compound sentence.

  • My favorite band is coming to town, so I will be camping out to get a ticket.
  • An assortment of visitors appeared at the gate, but the ambassador never acknowledged them.

Splice

A comma splice is an error that occurs when you join two independent clauses with a comma. Instead, use a coordinating conjunction, period, semicolon, or a semicolon and adverbial conjunction.

  • Comma Splice: The last time we saw him was in December, you won’t believe how much he has changed since then.
  • Correct: The last time we saw him was in December, but you won’t believe how much he has changed since then.
  • Correct: The last time we saw him was in December. You won’t believe how much he has changed since then.
  • Correct: The last time we saw him was in December; you won’t believe how much he has changed since then.
  • Correct: The last time we saw him was in December; however, you won’t believe how much he has changed since then.

Fused sentence

Closely related to a comma splice is the fused sentence. This occurs when a writer joins two independent clauses with no punctuation. You fix a fused sentence the same way as you do a comma splice. Here is an example, using the same sentence above, of a fused sentence:

  • Fused Sentence: The last time we saw him was in December you can’t believe how much he changed since then.

You would correct a fused sentence in the same way that you correct a comma splice.

When you can recognize independent clauses in your writing, you will begin to eliminate comma splices and fused sentences. Study Unit 4 again if you feel like you need some additional review.

Subordination

When a subordinate clause appears at the beginning of a sentence, use a comma after the subordinate clause. However, if the subordinate clause appears at the end, you will usually omit the comma.

  • Because it might rain, I will bring an umbrella to the festival. (comma)
  • I will bring an umbrella to the festival because it might rain. (no comma)

Subordination is yet another way to fix a comma splice or a fused sentence. Look at this example:

  • Comma Splice: The last time we saw him was in December, you can’t believe how much he changed since then.
  • Corrected with Subordination: Although we just saw him in December, you can’t believe how much he has changed since then.

Reference


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