Punctuation and The Comma Help
The comma is the most misused punctuation mark. Since there are so many comma rules, it is understandable why people become confused about their use. Commas are supposed to help clarify sentences and note the logical pauses. Speaking of clarifying, how would you interpret the following sentence?
She stole money from me and Ralph who lived in the other room complained.
Whom did she steal money from? If the writer meant that he had money stolen from him or her, then the sentence would be clearer if a comma were inserted after me. Then we understand that Ralph had no money stolen from him. He just complained.
The following are some rules you need to know to use the comma correctly.
Rules for Using the Comma
- To ensure clarity, use commas to separate items in a series.
- Use commas to separate words or groups of words that interrupt the flow of the sentence.
- Use a comma to separate more than one adjective describing the same word.
Clear the bushes, pull the weeds, and plant the spring flowers.
Hubert Humphrey, presidential hopeful, lost the election to Richard Nixon.
Humphrey lost the election, if you recall, by only 1 percent of the popular vote.
The flourishing, bright, and imaginative summer garden lasts only a short while.
NOTE: If the word and can be used between the adjectives, you need to use commas.
He wore a heavyweight business suit.
In this example, you cannot use the word and between the adjectives heavyweight and business. Consequently, you should not insert a comma between the two words.
- Use a comma to separate introductory words from the main part of the sentence, that is, from the part that can stand alone.
- Insert a comma when the words nevertheless, however, inasmuch as, and therefore interrupt a complete thought.
Before Michael Jordan retired from basketball, he was my favorite player.
Unfortunately for Hubert Humphrey, however, his views on Vietnam alienated him from his former supporters.
Will we ever, therefore, find a way to rationalize that war?
- Insert a comma to separate two complete thoughts (independent clauses) that are connected by a word such as and, but, nor, yet, for, and or.
- Use a comma to separate a direct quotation from the rest of the sentence.
- Use commas to separate the day from the year and the year from the rest of the sentence.
- Use a comma to separate the name of a city from the name of a state or country.
- A comma is used in both the salutation and the closing of a friendly letter.
- When a sentence begins with a complete thought followed by an incomplete thought, a comma is not necessary,
- When a sentence has one subject, a comma is not necessary to separate two verbs.
The sun rises in the morning, and it sets in the evening.
We had an invitation to an elegant party, but we cancelled when we both got the flu.
NOTE: When the clauses on both sides of the comma are complete thoughts, each could stand alone.
"When it started raining, did you offer your friends a ride home?" she asked.
He replied, "No, but I waited with them until their bus arrived." "I can understand why you didn't want to insist," she said, "but next time, see if you can convince them to go with you."
Do you expect to graduate on June 23, 2009?
I graduated on June 23, 2009, and went directly into the Air Force.
We grew up in Austin, Texas.
My favorite trip was to London, England.
Incorrect: I always eat a hearty breakfast, before any activity.
Correct: I always eat a hearty breakfast before any activity.
Incorrect: Harry returned to the polling place, and picked up the car keys he had left in the booth.
Correct: Harry returned to the polling place and picked up the car keys he had left in the booth.
Note: Harry is the subject. He did two things, that is, he returned and picked up.
Once again, refer to the preceding rules if you have a question about comma use in the next two exercises. When you reach the final Written Practice, however, try to make all the changes and additions on your own. Of course, check the Answer Key to see how well you did.
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