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The Art of Commas

The Art of Commas

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Published by James Click

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Published by: James Click on Feb 05, 2012
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Prof. James ClickFall 2010
Everything You Need to Know About Using Commas (Almost)
The comma is one of the most common and important punctuation marks because it is used to identify and manage different parts of a sentence. Understanding how to use commas properly is critical to becoming a clear and persuasive writer.
Comma Usage:
I.
Use commas to separate INDEPENDENT CLAUSES when they are joined byany of these seven coordinating conjunctions:
and, but, for, or, nor, so,yet.
(FANBOYS)
Ex 
- The semester was finally over, but I still had three papers to finish.
Ex 
- The student rephrased her question, yet the professor still could notunderstand.
Ex 
- I spent all weekend writing this paper, so the last thing I need is a new paperassignment.
II.
Use commas after introductory clauses. Common starter words forintroductory clauses that should be followed by a comma include
after,although, as, because, if, since, when, while.
Ex 
- When I woke up the next morning, my wallet was gone and there was no signof my girlfriend.
Ex 
- Since she was going to the store, I asked her to pick up some carrots and asix-pack.
However, don't put a comma after the main clause when a dependent(subordinate) clause follows it (except for cases of extreme contrast).
Ex 
- He failed the class, because he never attended the Writing Center.(INCORRECT)
Ex 
- Her kids called me “daddy” since I looked like her ex-husband. (CORRECT)
Ex 
- Janet was quite depressed, although we had been married that day.(CORRECT because it indicates extreme contrast)
III.
Use a pair of commas in the middle of a sentence to set off clauses,phrases, and words that are not essential to the meaning of thesentence. Use one comma before to indicate the beginning of the pauseand one at the end to indicate the end of the pause.
Ex 
- I enjoy your company; your food, on the other hand, is something you need towork on.
Ex 
- My car, which was given to me by my grandfather, catches fire every time Istart the engine.
 
Prof. James ClickFall 2010
Clues to help you decide whether a clause is not essential (use commas)or essential (no commas): 1) If you leave out the clause, phrase, orword, does the sentence still make sense? 2) Does the clause, phrase, orword interrupt the flow of words in the original sentence? 3) Does theclause begin with the word “which”? If so, it is not essential (usecommas). If the clause begins with the word “that,” it is essential (nocommas).
Ex 
- The movie that I borrowed from you was excellent. (NO COMMAS around “thatI borrowed from you” because the clause is essential to understanding themeaning of the sentence)
Ex 
- The movie she recommended, which was made in 1993, was quite boring.(USE COMMAS around “which was made in 1993” because the clause is notessential to understanding the meaning of the sentence)
IV.
Use commas to separate three or more words, phrases, or clauses writtenin a series. The commas before the final member of the series (before“and”) is optional.
Ex 
- The candidate promised to lower taxes, protect the environment, reducecrime, and end unemployment.
Ex 
- My favorite cuisines are Mexican, Thai, and Indian.
V.
Use commas to separate two or more coordinate adjectives that describethe same noun. Coordinate adjectives are adjectives with equal ("co"-ordinate) status in describing the noun; neither adjective is subordinateto the other. You can decide if two adjectives in a row are coordinate byasking the following questions: 1) Does the sentence make sense if theadjectives are written in reverse order? 2) Does the sentence makesense if the adjectives are written with
and 
between them? If youanswer “yes” to either one of these questions, then a comma should beused to separate the adjectives.
Ex 
- She was an angry, irresponsible child. (COORDINATE ADJECTIVES, “angry” &“irresponsible” separately modify the noun “child”- use commas to separate)
Ex 
- She always wears a blue satin blouse. (NON-COORDINATE ADJECTIVES, “blue”modifies “satin,” which in turn modifies “blouse”- do not separate with a comma)
VI.
Use commas to set off all geographical names, items in dates (except themonth and day), addresses (except the street number and name), andtitles in names.
 
Prof. James ClickFall 2010
Ex 
- We are planning to move to Portland, Oregon or Seattle, Washington.
Ex 
- On September 11, 2001, I was living at 721 O’Farrell Street, San Francisco,California.
VII.
Use a comma to shift between the main discourse of a sentence and aquotation.
Ex 
- In 1848, Marx wrote, "Workers of the world, unite!"
Ex 
- When the student was asked why he cheated on the test, he said, “I didn’trealize copying someone else’s answers is cheating.”
However, if a quote is preceded by the word “that,” then no comma isused.
Ex 
- The author believes that “several schools will close before the end of theyear.”
VIII.
Use commas wherever necessary to prevent possible confusion ormisreading.
Ex-
Shelley having drowned Byron presided over the funeral ceremonies on thebeach. (INCORRECT)
Ex 
- Shelley having drowned, Byron presided over the funeral ceremonies on thebeach. (CORRECT)
Common Comma-Related Mistakes to Avoid:
I.
Do not use a comma to separate independent clauses unless it is pairedwith a coordinating conjunction. When only a comma separates twoindependent clauses, it is called a comma splice.
Ex 
- I was excited to see her, I had always regretted breaking up with her.(INCORRECT)
Ex 
- I was excited to see her; I had always regretted breaking up with her.(CORRECT)
II.
Don't put a comma after the main clause when a dependent (subordinate)clause follows it (except for cases of extreme contrast).
Ex 
- The cat scratched at the door, while I was eating. (INCORRECT)
Ex 
- The cat scratched at the door while I was eating. (CORRECT)

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