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The Comma

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The Comma tells us when to pause while reading and helps organize writing. Since commas can be used in a variety of ways, they have a lot of rules. Each one is important and helpful to know.

Rules for using the Comma

Rule 1: Use a comma to separate a series of three or more words in a list. Place a comma before the word "and" at the end of the list.

  • I like to eat lollipops, jellybeans, and bubblegum.
(List of three or more - use a comma between the words)
  • Craig jumped, bounced, and flipped on the trampoline.
(List of three or more - use a comma between the words)

Exception: Do NOT use a comma if there are just two words in the list.

  • He gave Santa milk and cookies.
(Just two in the list - no comma)
  • Sally walked and ran in the race.
(Just two in the list - no comma)

Rule 2: Use commas between lists of three or more adjectives or adverbs.

  • Luke is a fast, talented, and accurate soccer player.
(List of adjectives - use commas)
  • Lisa ran quickly, slowly, and wildly in the obstacle course.
(List of adverbs - use commas)
  • The puppy is fuzzy, soft, and gentle.
(List of adjectives - use commas)

Rule 3: Use a comma between two adjectives to separate them if they are interchangeable.

  • It was a short, simple play.    (The two adjectives can be interchanged - It was a simple, short play - use a comma to separate the adjectives)
  • She is a healthy, fit girl.    (The two adjectives can be interchanged - She is a fit, healthy girl - use a comma to separate the adjectives)

Rule 4: Use a comma to separate two complete thoughts (independent clauses) in a compound sentence. Place the comma before the conjunction (and, but, or, for, yet, so, nor).

  • I'd like to go to the store, but my car is out of gas.
(A compound sentence - place the comma before "but")
  • Julie will draw the pictures, and Sam will color them in.
(A compound sentence - place the comma before "and")
  • You can eat the pasta, or I can order some pizza.
(A compound sentence - place the comma before "or")

Rule 5: Use a comma to separate a dependent clause from the rest of the sentence if it starts the sentence.

A dependent clause has a subject and a verb but is not a complete sentence on its own. Place the comma after the dependent clause.

  • While I was at the store, my sister went to the movies.
(Dependent clause - place a comma after the clause)
  • As she ate the cupcakes, I made more.
(Dependent clause - place a comma after the clause)
  • After Stacy ran the race, she felt tired and hungry.
(Dependent clause - place a comma after the clause)

Rule 6: Use a comma to separate introductory words like "Yes" or "No" from the rest of the sentence.

  • Yes, I'd love to have a picnic this afternoon.
("Yes" is an introductory word - place a comma after it)
  • No, I'd rather not eat my peas.
("No" is an introductory word - place a comma after it)
  • Well, let's see how the weather is before we decide.
("Well" is an introductory word - place a comma after it)

Rule 7: If you start a sentence by addressing someone by name, use a comma after the name.

  • Michael, join us at the table.
("Michael" is being addressed - use a comma after his name)
  • Joshua, do you know the answer to the question?
("Joshua" is being addressed - use a comma after his name)

Rule 8: Use a comma between the city and state in an address.

  • My brother lives in Las Vegas, Nevada.
("Las Vegas" (city), "Nevada" (state) - use a comma between them)
  • Disney World is in Orlando, Florida.
("Orlando" (city), "Florida" (state) - use a comma between them)

Rule 9: Use a comma between the day and year in a date.

  • Mazie was born on April 8, 1999.
(8 (day), 1999 (year) - use a comma between them)
  • Lisa will leave for her trip on June 5, 2014.
(5 (day), 2014 (year) - use a comma between them)

Rule 10: Use a comma to separate extra information from the rest of the sentence. The sentence will still be complete if you remove this information. This extra information is called an appositive. Place commas before and after an appositive.

  • Henry, my best friend, is sleeping over on Friday.
("Appositive" - place commas before and after)
  • Rover, my uncle's dog, is a trained search-and-rescue dog.
("Appositive" - place commas before and after)
  • My favorite book, The Wizard of Oz, is a classic.
("Appositive" - place commas before and after)

Rule 11: Use a comma for numbers over 999.

  • $ 53,250
(Use comma to separate numbers over 999)
  • 3,000,000
(Use comma to separate numbers over 999)

Rule 12: Use a comma before or after the direct speech. We do not use comma for indirect speech.

  • He said, "I am not well."
(A comma is used before the quotation marks in a direct speech.)
  • "I am not well," he said.      (A comma is used after the direct speech as the sentence begins with a quotation mark.)
  • He said that he was not well.
(No comma is used in the indirect speech.)

Rule 13: Use commas in personal titles.

  • Meredith Gray, M.D., is here.      ("M.D." is a personal title - use comma before and after the personal title)
  • Harvey Specter, Chief Financial Officer for Operations, reported the annual earnings.      ("Chief Financial Officer for Operations" is a personal title - use comma before and after the personal title)

Rule 14: When writing with commas, put a space AFTER each comma, but never before.

Be careful with commas! When misplaced in or left out of a sentence, a comma can change the meaning of your words entirely:

  • Let's eat, Grandma!
(Inviting Grandma to eat - use a comma)
  • Let's eat Grandma!
(Planning to eat Grandma - missing comma)
Summary

The handy chart below helps remember the rules and uses of the comma.

NAME Punctuation
Mark
USAGE EXAMPLE
Comma ,

Use a comma to:

  • Separate two complete thoughts in a compound sentence.

  • Separate words in a list of three or more.

  • Separate a dependent clause at the start of a sentence from the rest of the sentence.

  • Separate an appositive from the rest of the sentence.
  • Separate introductory words from the rest of the sentence.

  • Separate a name address from the rest of the sentence.

  • Separate the city and state in an address.

  • Separate the day and year in a date.

  • Separate three or more adjectives or adverbs.

  • To separate two adjectives if they are interchangeable.

  • Separate numbers over 999.

  • Separate personal titles from the name.

  • Use a comma before or after direct speech.

  • We went to the ocean, and we built a sandcastle.

  • I packed a toothbrush, toothpaste, and a comb.

  • While it was snowing, I built a snowman.


  • My favorite food, chicken, is available at the restaurant.

  • So, do you want to go to the movies today?

  • George, can you make it to the meeting?


  • I visited Denver, Colorado.


  • Today is December 15, 2015.

  • The puppy is fuzzy, soft, and gentle.

  • It was a short, simple play.

  • $ 53,250

  • Meredith Gray, M.D., is here.

  • He said, "I am not well."

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