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Some Pointers for Commas – How You Should Use Commas

The use of commas (,) follows a set of rules.

They seem hard to apply, because whenever I see a student essay or email, there are often a few mistakes with commas. I’ll show you some examples afterwards. But first: what are the rules?

comma1Rebecca Wilson

1 Use a comma before a connecting word.

For example: but, because, or then. With “and” you can choose to put a comma or not. It’s American style to put a comma before “and”; in other dialects of English, commas are not usual before “and.” The same thing with “or.” Use a comma before “or” if you want to follow American style.

Examples:

It’s late, but I’m too tired to get up.

First turn on the oven, then prepare the batter for the cake.

2 Use commas in lists of three items or more.

Examples:
The cat is grey, black and white.

If you’re writing in American style, you can write: The cat is grey, black, and white.

3 Around names (use two commas), or explanations of this name.

Examples:

“Watch out, Peter,” she said, and ran away as fast as she could.

Alex, played by Daniel Brühl, is trying to build a life-like child robot.

4 When you have two adjectives that you can connect by “and.”

Example:

She is an old, frail woman.

You could say: She is an old and frail woman. So here the comma is okay.

Another example:

Tonight there’s an exciting live concert.

You wouldn’t say exciting and live concert, so no comma.

5 Use a comma after the word(s) that introduce(s) a new part of a sentence.

Examples:

Yes, I’ve seen your note.

Thanks, I’ll look at it later.

However, we’ll see what we can do.

In addition, I need some ribbon.

You can add more spices to the rice, for example coriander seeds.

As a rule, I prefer to live in the country.

He’d rather live in the city, funnily enough.

6 Use a comma to separate a statement from a question.

Examples:

He’s in, isn’t he?

You didn’t hear me, did you?

7 Use a comma to separate a quote from the person who is saying it.

Examples:

“Yes Mr Osawa,” she said.

“Hello friends,” he said, “have you been waiting long?”

Examples from Student Essays

And now for the examples that I promised you.

A common problem, by the way, is that students of English write sentences that are too long, and they lose their way somewhere in the middle. A good rule to keep in mind is, make sure you understand your sentence when you read it again! I know this isn’t an easy rule to follow. You’re probably writing about a subject that you know a lot about. In addition, you don’t have a problem writing long sentences in your native language.

1 This sentence has a comma missing:

Grunge is a genre of rock music that started in Seattle Washington.

Where should the comma be?

Answer: between “Seattle” and “Washington.”

See rule 3. You need to separate names (Seattle is the city and Washington is the state).

2 From the same essay, another sentence with a comma missing:

Besides grunge bands other genres also profited from the rise of grunge.

Where should the comma be?

Answer: Here:

Besides grunge bands, other genres also profited from the rise of grunge.

See rule 5. After the introductory part of a sentence, put a comma.

3 Another essay. One comma is missing:

That is the reason why I am studying sound engineering, to enhance the great connection I have with music and sound and share it with the world but more importantly, for me as a person to grow stronger from this connection for the rest of my life.

Where should the comma be?

Answer: before “but.” See rule 1, use a comma before a connecting word.

4 This sentence has a comma too many:

There are so many things, that we don’t know and understand about plants …

In this sentence, “so many things that we don’t know and understand” is one part of a sentence, and not two. They belong together, and you can’t leave one part out. So no comma.

5 Here is another sentence in which two commas are missing:

Another great tragedy is the death of Lane Stahl the singer of Alice in Chains who died of an overdose in 2002.

Where should the commas be?

Here:

Another great tragedy is the death of Lane Stahl, the singer of Alice in Chains, who died of an overdose in 2002.

Rules 3 and 5 are applied here.

Exercise

Put commas in the following sentences (they’re taken from student essays and emails). In some sentences you will have to add more than one comma:

1 From the black-and-white silent movies of the 20th century cinema transformed into a magical spectacle unthinkable without computer graphics.

2 There is the famous composer, actor and radio broadcaster Dan Toran who decided to give his fans the opportunity to download his albums and music for free.

3 New software and applications were created such as iTunes by Apple that allowed people to buy albums and single songs for a symbolic payment.

4 Many films use these animation techniques such as “Avatar” “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” as the technology for this is becoming more simple.

5 Although we all keep doing it all the time (watching television) most of us don’t put their mind in it and we don’t even ask ourselves the question: “Why are we doing it?”

6 For example if someone is watching a movie or a series on a specific day everything will be canceled at that time: a friend’s visit, birthday celebration or just a family meeting.

7 Okay thanks I will visit this website a bit later.

8 I never did any language course but my elder brother did.

9 Thank you sir.

10 Even if you don’t answer my questions I’m glad to hear from you again.

11 I haven’t read your email yet because I am very lazy.

Answers at the bottom of this page. Just scroll down.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Answers: 
1 From the black-and-white silent movies of the 20th century, cinema transformed into a magical spectacle unthinkable without computer graphics.

2 There is the famous composer, actor and radio broadcaster Dan Toran, who decided to give his fans the opportunity to download his albums and music for free.

3 New software and applications were created, such as iTunes by Apple, that allowed people to buy albums and single songs for a symbolic payment.

4 Many films use these animation techniques, such as “Avatar,” “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit,” as the technology for this is becoming more simple.

5 Although we all keep doing it all the time (watching television), most of us don’t put their mind in it and we don’t even ask ourselves the question: “Why are we doing it?”

6 For example, if someone is watching a movie or a series on a specific day, everything will be canceled at that time: a friend’s visit, birthday celebration or just a family meeting.

7 Okay thanks, I will visit this website a bit later.

8 I never did any language course, but my elder brother did.

9 Thank you, sir.

10 Even if you don’t answer my questions, I’m glad to hear from you again.

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