Using the Comma Correctly Study Guide
Using the Comma Correctly
I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again. - OSCAR WILDE (1854–1900) IRISH NOVELIST AND POET
In this lesson, you'll learn how to use the comma, the grammatical device that causes writers more trouble than any other.
How difficult can punctuation be? Don't all sentences end in a period? Don't you put a question mark at the end of a sentence that asks a question? And don't you use an exclamation point when you want to convey drama or make a very strong point? What else is there?
Well, there's the comma: the dreaded, evil, nasty comma. The comma is basically the single detail in writing that causes more difficulties and gets writers into more trouble than any other element in the writing process. Commas cause lots more trouble than verbs and pronouns, and they usually beat out the competition from sentence fragments and run-ons for First Prize in Troublemaking. So pay attention here; you can learn to use commas correctly with a lot of thought and a little practice. (We'll review other punctuation marks in the next lesson.)
What are commas for, anyway? Why do we need them? Commas are actually very useful grammatical tools: They separate parts of a sentence in order to make meanings clear. It's that simple.
Beware The Comma Splice
You may have seen the term comma splice written by your teacher in the margins of your papers. Comma splice is the term used to describe the incorrect use of a comma; it is called a splice because the most common error is to splice (or slice) a sentence, dividing two independent clauses with only a comma. Beware the comma splice. It is the most common comma error, and it results from a writer's uncertainty, ignorance about comma rules, or just plain negligence.
When in doubt about a comma, leave it out. You have a better chance of conveying meaning without a comma than you do with sticking one in arbitrarily and thereby splicing the sentence unnecessarily.
The Proper Use of Commas
|1.||Use a comma to join independent clauses in a compound sentence.|
|The students got tired of working, but the assignment demanded more time.|
|The lessons require some effort, or the students won't learn the right way to write.|
|2.||Use a comma after an introductory phrase or word.|
|Finally, the students understood the concept.|
|After much complaining, the students liked knowing how to use commas.|
|3.||Use a comma to insert an interrupting element in a sentence, or when the sentence is addressed directly to a person or persons.|
|The lesson provided, at long last, a clear way to understand comma rules.|
|All students, especially you, Andrea, really need to pay attention to your comma usage.|
|The teacher, Ms. Prim, frequently grows impatient when her students misbehave.|
|4.||Use commas to separate items in a series.|
|My favorite fruits are apples, oranges, tangerines, and kiwis.|
|5.||Use commas between adjectives when the adjectives are equal and modify the same noun.|
|Our delicious, colorful meals are also nutritious.|
|(Our delicious and colorful meals are also nutritious would also be correct, but why include that extra word?)|
|Do not use a comma when the adjectives together create a single idea:|
|The intense green kiwi is a beautiful—and tasty—fruit.|
|(The first adjective, intense, modifies the second adjective, green, rather than the noun kiwi. To test whether or not a comma is wanted between two adjectives, insert the word and where the comma would be. The intense and green kiwi doesn't make sense, so you omit the comma.)|
|6.||Use commas in dates, addresses, and letters.|
|September 11, 2001|
|New York, New York|
|Hugs and kisses,|
|7.||Use a comma to avoid confusion.|
|Unclear: After you study the use of commas will become much clearer.|
|Clear: After you study, the use of commas will become much clearer.|
Exercises for this concept can be found at Using the Comma Correctly Practice Exercises
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