Monday, December 10, 2012

Comma 101: Everything Writers Should Know About Commas

Misusing a comma is the number one cause of punctuation error. Even the seasoned writers misplace it once in a while. So, are the correct placement and usage of commas really that important? Hell yes. Let me show you a short-and-sweet example (some of you may have seen a similar example before).

1.    Don’t kill, Mom.
2.    Don’t kill Mom.

See the difference? In number 1, you’re telling Mom not to kill. In number 2, you’re telling another person not to kill Mom. Get it? That single comma changed the entire meaning of the sentence. Here is a comprehensive guide to help you learn all about commas. Study it. Especially if you want to call yourself a writer.

1.    Before coordinating conjunctions (and/or/but/yet…) to join independent clauses.
Ex: I went home, but you went to school.

2.    After the clause with subordinating conjunctions (after/when/because…).
Ex: Because I went home, you went to school.

3.    After conjunctive adverbs (however, hence, instead…). Don’t forget to place semicolons before them. Exceptions are when they’re used as interrupters; then, you will wrap them with commas instead of a semicolon and a comma. The example is shown in number 4.
Ex: I went home; however, you went to school.

4.    Around interrupters-adjective/appositives/parenthetical clauses, etc.
Ex: The book, which was covered in dust, appeared old.

5.    Series of three or more items. The red comma is called a serial comma or Oxford comma. (Omission in newspaper articles is one of the few exceptions.) 
Ex: I want to eat cookies, candies, and pancakes.

6.    Between coordinate adjectives (more than one adjective).
Ex: I love cold, hard cash.

7.    After introductory clauses (prepositional/participial/adverbial, etc.)
Ex: Kicking, I ran after the ball. As the door closed, I screamed.

8.    Expression of contrast.
Ex: I want you, not him.

9.    Before confirmatory questions.
Ex: You want me, don’t you?

10.  In between dates, addresses, etc.
Ex: My date of birth is August 21, 1981, and my address is 25 Lalaland Street, Fantasy Island.

11.  Names and titles.
Ex: Tom Park, Ph.D., (Tom Park, PhD) is my mentor. 
In academic papers, refer to the style being used such as APA, MLA, Chicago Style, etc. 

12.  To clarify unreadable word groups and miscellaneous.
Ex: A few weeks before, I saw her. I’ll do it, just to be sure.

Whew. I think I’ve got all of them. I hope. Well, since you’re here, check out my other writing/editing tip posts. If you need an editor, please visit my editing website and try my free, sample edits. Thanks for visiting my blog. Happy writing~


  1. Me and commas are like a bad dream revolving in a nocturnal space-ride all the way to the Sun. Yup - one hot ride.

    I used to fall foul all the time of commas, but lately I'm getting the hang of it. This is a great post to remind me and many of the simple areas where you can muck up.

    Have favourited this post to read at least once a week to keep my brain in check.

    Succint and to the point.

    That's what I call a stabby post on Commas.

  2. I'm linking this post to my blogger friend, Andrew.

  3. Commas and I do not get along. I do my best, but I struggle with even subject/object/verb, nevermind coordinating/subordinating and independent/dependent clauses. I figure you'll find the ones for me that I missed :-)

  4. Lately I'm hearing that the comma before 'too' is now omitted. For example, "I want to go, too." I'm used to putting commas here, and leaving it out would take some time to get used to. What are your thoughts on that?

    1. It's up to the writer. Using a comma is putting a pause. If you want to create an emphasis, put it. If you want a smooth flow, don't put it. Up to you. Thanks for visiting my blog~

    2. Would this be correct use of comma?
      "The teachers' job is to teach. They must, therefore, not be asked to report to school where there are no students to teach in the first place. "

  5. I've always been pretty good with commas, but that doesn't mean I don't miss a few now and then. This post will come in handy for those times we're just not sure.

  6. Great lesson, Su. My editor used to call me the comma monster, but I'm getting better. Thanks for the tips. Hope you are blessed in this Season of Christ.

  7. Great post! I think I'm okay with commas, but semicolons still confuse me.

    1. Semicolon is used to connect two independent sentences. You could separate those two by using a period. That is why I rarely use them, especially in creative writing. They seem too formal/stiff to me because you're saying two complete sentences without a break.

    2. And thank you for visiting my blog~

  8. Regarding example 5, I was always taught that the comma is omitted when the final item in the list is presented. e.g.
    I want to eat cookies, candies (no comma) and pancakes.

    Is this no longer the case?

    Not being argumentative - just seeking clarity.

    1. That comma is called a serial comma or an Oxford comma and is not always necessary. However...what about an item with a conjunction in it?

      EX: I ate a cookie, candies, macaroni and cheese, and gum.

      In this instance, that comma is what differentiates the two ands. Also, some sentences are very complex and lengthy. It's safe to stick to the old rule and be consistent. Use the commas always, and you'll never get it wrong.

      Hope this answers your question. Thanks for visiting my blog~

  9. So many commas and so little time. Thanks for the many examples how to use the comma properly. And thanks for visiting my blog. I know so many beautiful songs from Korea, I hope to write one day a novel set in that country.

  10. I seriously cannot love this post enough. It warms a copy editor's heart.

  11. That was a good refresher. I think I use my commas correctly.

  12. Thanks a lot. This is one thing that I struggle with.

  13. Great post! For our writing workshops we tried to incorporate an easy way to learn about punctuation, but first we have to learn it ourselves (teachers)! It is definitely a challenge to use the comma correctly in our own writing, but trying to teach kids how to use commas correctly in their second language is a different story.

  14. I'm always so nervous about commas because I had an English teacher in high school who told me I was always comma splicing. In retrospect, I don't believe she knew what she was talking about. Great post.