What is the comma punctuation mark? Where should a comma be placed in a sentence? Are commas always needed to correctly punctuate a sentence? These are some of the questions that will be answered in this workshop. (Please see punctuation chart in our introduction to punctuation workshop).
A comma is a punctuation mark that separates elements and ideas within a sentence. The comma might be the most difficult punctuation mark to master. Primarily this is because, there are many different ways to use the comma when writing. The comma can indicate a brief pause if the sentence is being read aloud, and the comma separates grammatical components of a sentence.
Commas should be placed after a conjunctive adverb, i.e. – however, instead, likewise, moreover, nevertheless, etc. and before a coordinating conjunction (FANBOYS).
• Johnnie shouldn’t have broken his little sister’s toy; nevertheless, his little sister shouldn’t have shoved him.
nevertheless = conjunction adverb
• Tiffany applies her makeup well; however, she is terribly at applying eyelash extensions.
however = conjunction adverb
You should always place a comma before a coordinating conjunction i.e. – for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so, that join two independent clauses (two subjects and two verbs that make up two complete thoughts).
A compound sentence contains two or more independent clauses linked by a coordinating conjunction. Always use a comma before a coordinating conjunction that joins two independent clauses.
• Navigating through traffic here in Los Angeles can be a difficult, so when driving you must be cautious.
Independent clause 1
• Navigating through traffic here in Los Angeles can be a difficult.
Independent clause 2
• when driving you must be cautious.
If you do not have two subjects and two verbs separated by the FANBOYS, you do not need to insert the comma before the FANBOYS. In other words, if the second grouping of words isn’t a complete thought, don’t use a comma.
• Jessie loves to eat Italian food and often eats spaghetti.
• Jessie loves to eat Italian food.
Not a complete thought
• often eats spaghetti
There is no need to place a comma before the coordinating conjunction “and”, because the second grouping of words isn’t a complete thought.
A run-on sentence exists when two or more independent clauses are not joined with the proper conjunction or punctuation.
• I have to go to the mall, I need a new dress.
Independent clause 1
1. I have to go to the mall
Independent clause 2
2. I need a new dress
In the above sentence example, there is no conjunction or correct punctuation between these clauses; this makes it a run-on sentence. Remember, when you join two independent clauses with a comma and no conjunction, it’s called a comma splice or run on sentence.
I have to go to the mall, and I need a new dress.
and = conjunction
There are three ways to fix a comma splice. You can add a conjunction, change the comma to a semicolon, or make each independent clause its own sentence.
Victor went to the park, John also went to the park.
1. Add a coordinating conjunction
• Victor went to the park and John also went to the park.
• and = conjunction
2. Two independent clauses
• Victor went to the park.
• John also went to the park.
• Victor went to the park, John also went to the park.
• Victor went to the park; John also went to the park.
It is important to realize that the length of a sentence really has nothing to do with whether a sentence is a run-on or not; being a run-on is a structural flaw that can plague even a very short sentence.
• I love video games I would play one everyday if I had the time.
• It’s raining outside so dont forget to put on a raincoat.
Here is how we correct the above sentence examples
• I love video games, I would play one everyday if I had the time.
• It’s raining outside, so dont forget to put on a raincoat.
When a word or phrase occurs at the beginning of a sentence, a comma should separate it from the main clause.
• In my opinion, the concert was horrible.
In my opinion = introductory phrase
• Yes, I would love to go out to dinner.
Yes = introductory word
Common starter words for introductory clauses that should be followed by a comma include after, although, as, because, if, since, when, while.
• Because my car broke down, I was late for work.
• Although the chili was good, it was a bit spicy.
Use a comma to set off nonessential elements.
A nonessential element is a word, phrase, or clause that is not needed to complete a sentence. Use a comma to set off or separate nonessential (words or phrases that aren’t necessary to identify the subject) in the sentence from the main clause of the sentence. Nonessential doesn’t mean unimportant. Nonessential means that it can be removed and the sentence still makes sense and is grammatically correct. Commas are needed both before and after.
• His best friend, “John”, is planning a dinner party for his engagement.
John = nonessential
• I went to the park with my friends, Billy and Joseph, and then we went to the mall.
Billy and Joseph = nonessential
• Mrs. Smith, my neighbor, wants to adopt a puppy.
my neighbor = nonessential
Use a comma to separate items in a list or a series.
A series or a list is defined as three or more. Anytime there is a list of three or more items, use a comma to separate them.
• The cooks are preparing veal parmesan, filet mignon, baked salmon and baby back ribs.
• Jennifer needs a winter coat, boots, gloves and a hat.
Should you place a comma before the last item in a list?
• I enjoy fishing, hiking, swimming, and jogging.
• It depends stylistically.
The Oxford (or serial) comma is the final comma in a list of things.
Use of the Oxford comma is stylistic, meaning that some style guides demand its use while others don’t. AP Style—the style guide that newspaper reporters adhere to—does not require the use of the Oxford comma. The above sentence example written in AP style would look like this:
• I enjoy fishing, hiking, swimming and jogging.
Generally, it’s up to you the writer to decide whether or not to use the oxford comma. Be consistent when using it, and make sure when using the Oxford comma, the purpose should be to help make your sentence easier for the reader to understand.
Use a comma to introduce a quotation.
• Infuriated, the store manager announced, “All produce department employees, report to my office immediately”.
• She said to me, “I enjoyed reading your book”.
Use a comma with addresses, dates, and numbers.
• Mark lives in Miami, Florida.
• She lives at 50 Pink Panther Street, Erie, Pennsylvania 10053.
Do not place a comma between the State and zip code.
When using a specific date in a sentence, a comma should be placed between the day and the year and also after the year.
• June 22, 2006, was the first day I arrived in Georgia.
• October 1, 2019, is the 274th day of the year.
In numbers of more than three digits, use a comma after every third digit from right to left.
One thousand three hundred
• 1, 300
One million five hundred thousand
Thirty two thousand two hundred and fifteen
Use commas after greetings.
Greetings are also separated by commas. When you write an e-mail or a letter, you add a comma after the greeting word or the person’s name. You also need to include a comma after the closing, which is the word or phrase you put before your signature.
• Hello, Steven
• Hi, Billy
• Good morning, Tiffany
• Sincerely yours,
• Thank you,
• Best regards,
This concludes the workshop on the comma. Please go back and re-read the information contained in this workshop before completing the comma worksheet.
After you have re-read the information in this workshop, test your knowledge on the comma punctuation mark. Please complete the worksheet titled, Comma Worksheet. You’ll find it on our website. Just click on the menu section at the top and then select worksheets.
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