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CommaRules

CommaRules
Commarulescanbeconfusing,notnecessarilybecausetheyredifficult,butbecause
noonecanseemtoagreeonwhattheyare.Oneteacherwilltellyouonerulefor
usingcommaswhileanotherwilltellyouexactlytheopposite,andthefrustratingtruth
isthattheyreprobablybothright.Therulesforcommauseare,forthemostpart,
firmlyset,butthereareafewgrayareasaswell,anditshelpfultoknowwhattheyare
sothatyouunderstandwhereyouabsolutelyneedacomma,whereyouabsolutely
shouldntputone,andwhereyoucanfiddlearoundabit.

10KeyRulesforCommas
1.Useacommatoseparateitemsinalist(nounsandadjectives).Ifyouhave
morethantwonounsormorethanoneadjective,youneedtoseparatethemwith
commas.Inalistofnouns,youwillseparatethefinaltwowiththewordandorthe
wordorlikethis:
Janetwenttothestoretobuypasta,broccoli,lemonsandbeans.
Youdontneedacommaafterlemons,butifyouputonethere,itsnotincorrect.Its
justuptoyou.Ifyoulikeacommathere,useone.Ifnot,dontworryaboutit.
2.
Inalistofadjectives,youonlyneedtwotouseacomma,andiftheadjectives

comebeforethenoun,dontuseand.Youonlyneedtouseandinalistof
adjectivesifthelistcomesaftertheverbbe.Lookatthefollowingsentence:
Ihaveabig,old,warmquiltonmybed.
3.DONTseparateasubjectfromitsverbwithacomma.Evenifthesubjectis
verylongandyoufeellikeyouneedacommabecauseanyonereadingitwouldhave
topauseforabreath,dontdoit.
ThepresidentofthelargestcompanyinNorthAmericaandhismosttrustedand
esteemedboardofadvisors(nocommahere)wishtoseeyouimmediately.
Thequiltonmybedisbig,oldandwarm.
4.Useacommatoseparateclauses,bothdependentandindependent.
Bettywalkstoworkeveryday,talkstoclients,makesappointments,eatslunch,has
afternoonmeetings,andwalksbackhome.
Justlikeinthefirstrule,thefinalcomma(aftermeetings)isnotnecessaryinalistof
dependentclauses,butastheclausesgetlonger,leavingoutthatlastcommacanget
confusing,soitisoftenbettertoputitinjusttoclearthingsup.

Bettygetshomeat5:30,sheandherhusbandhavedinnertogether,theywatchTV
forafewhours,andtheygotobedaround11:00.
Whenyourclausesareindependent(theycouldstandaloneascompletesentences),
itisabsolutelynecessarytouseboththecommaandtheandbeforethefinalone.
5.Useacommatosetoffanondefiningsubordinateclauseoranappositive.A

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nondefiningsubordinateclausegivessomeinformationaboutanoun,butthe

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informationisnotnecessaryforidentifyingthatparticularnoun.Theseclausesusually
beginwithwhichorwho.
TheEmpireStateBuilding,whichwasbuiltin1972,isstillNewYorkstallestbuilding.
Thenondefiningsubordinateclause,whichwasbuiltin1972givessomeinformation
abouttheEmpireStateBuilding,butwedontneedthatinformationtoidentifythe
buildingordistinguishitfromanyotherEmpireStateBuildings.Itsjustextra
information.
Anappositiveissimilar,butitdoesntincludewhichorwho.Itsaword

orphrasewhichcanbesubstitutedforaname.

BobVance,thepresidentofVanceRefrigeration,marriedmycoworkerPhyllis.
Here,youcouldidentifyPhyllisshusbandaseitherBobVanceorthepresidentof
VanceRefrigeration.Theyarethesameperson.Youwillnoticethatshortorone
wordappositivessuchasinthephrasemycoworkerPhyllisdonothavetobeset
offwithcommas.Ifyouthinkasentenceorphrasewouldbeclearerbysettingoffa
shortappositivewithcommas,thenbyallmeans,doit.However,itisnotabsolutely
necessary.
6.Useacommatosetoffexpressionsofcontrast.
Itwashismoney,nothislooks,thatfirstattractedmetohim.Hedoesntlookfor
charminarestaurant,butservice.
7.Useacommatosetoffaquote.
Soshesaidtotheguy,Look,Idonthavetotakethisnotfromyou,andthenshe
turnedandwalkedaway.
Please,hebegged,cantwejusttalkaboutthis?

Shestoppedandturnedaroundslowly.Itstoolate,shereplied.Youhadyour
chance.Useacommatosetoffadirectaddress.
Thepeoplearemostgrateful,Your
Honor,foryouryearsofcontinuedservice."AndIwanttothankyou,RayDon,on
behalfofallthewomenoftheworld,foryourunfailingattentionandconcern."
8.Useacommatosignalthatthemain,independentclauseisabouttobegin
(whenthesentencebeginswithsomethingelse)orthatitisbeing
interrupted.Wordsthatmaybeusedtointroduceorinterruptasentenceare:infact,
ontheotherhand,totellthetruth,yes,no,indeed,well,nevertheless,however,inmy
opinion,etc.

Thetruth,inmyopinion,isthatweareallguiltyinpart.Indeed,IknowthatIam.
However,Ididntpullthetrigger.Mrs.Peacock,onthetheotherhand,did.Ifyouhave
anydoubtsaboutthisfact,pleasecheckherpurse.Youwillfindthegunthere,I
believe.
9.Usecommasinaddresses,datesandlargenumbers.
Portland,Oregon
December13,2009
1,945,687,238,400
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10.Usecommasinthesalutationandtheclosingexpressionofaletter.

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DearAuntCarol,
Ifyourewritingabusinessletterthatisveryformal,youmightsubstituteacolon(:)for
thecommainthegreeting.Theclosing,however,willalwaysuseacomma.
Sincerely,
Holly

Ifyoucanmasterthesetencommarules,yourwritingwillbeneater,clearerand
perfectlyacceptabletoEnglishwritingteacherseverywhere,nomatterwherethey
standinthegrayareas.

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