Commas, Colons, and Semicolons Help
You find commas everywhere. They indicate a pause in writing, just as taking a breath is a pause in speaking. Commas are used to set apart some modifiers, phrases, and clauses, and to enhance clarity by adding a sense of pace in written materials. There are some hard and fast rules for comma placement, but usage can often be a matter of personal style. Some writers use them frequently, others do not. Just keep this in mind as you write: Too many, or too few, commas can obscure the meaning of your message. On the following pages, you'll find some basic rules about comma use.
Rule 1. Use commas to separate a series of three or more words, phrases, or clauses in a sentence.
Please pick up milk, bread, and bananas from the store on your way home from work.
Shelly grabbed her coat, put it on, and ran to the bus.
However, if your series uses the words and or or to connect them, a comma is not necessary.
Red and white and blue are patriotic colors.
I cannot look at pictures of snakes or spiders or mice without anxiety.
Red, and white, and blue are patriotic colors.
I cannot look at pictures of snakes, or spiders, or mice without anxiety.
If you use two or more adjectives to describe a noun or pronoun, use a comma to separate them.
He was a happy, intelligent child.
Be careful not to put a comma between the final adjective and the word it modifies.
Rule 2. Set off an introductory word or phrase from the rest of the sentence with a comma. (See Lesson 13 for a review of phrases.)
This pause stops readers from carrying the meaning of the introduction into the main part of the sentence, which might lead to misinterpretation.
Confusing: After eating the flower shop owner and his manager tallied the day's receipts.
It seems as though someone was very hungry . . .
Less Confusing: After eating, the flower shop owner and his manager tallied the day's receipts.
Confusing: Laughing Larry tried to tell the joke but just couldn't.
What a strange name, Laughing Larry . . .
Less Confusing: Laughing, Larry tried to tell the joke but just couldn't.
A transitional phrase should also be set off by a comma if it introduces a sentence, or by two commas if it is within the sentence.
Fluke has two eyes on its left side, and is, in fact, known as summer flounder.
On the other hand, winter flounder has two eyes on its right side.
Rule 3. An appositive, a word or phrase that renames or enhances a noun, should be set off from the rest of the sentence by commas.
You, Nancy, are the winner.
Our neighbor, a well known architect, helped us draw up the plans. An experienced sailor, Marie was unconcerned about the high waves.
These appositive phrases set off by commas are nonrestrictive, or not essential; even if they are removed, the sentence will remain complete.
Rule 4. Use commas in dates, addresses, and in nonbusiness letter salutations and closings.
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