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Usage Comma Rules

Com m as are u sed to sep arate p arts of a sentence. They often tell read ers to p au se betw een w ord s, and they help clarify the m eaning of sentences. Below are som e of the m ost com m on situ ations in w hich com m as are need ed .

BETWEEN ITEMS IN A S ERIES


Com m as are u sed to sep arate w ord s, p hrases, or clau ses in a list. EXAMPLES: Mr. Jenson w anted u s to bring apples, milk, and bread. (word s) Rehearsals are held before school, during lunch, and at night. (p hrases) The sup ervisor w anted to know w ho had broken into the store, w hy they had done so, and what had been taken. (clauses)

BETWEEN IN D EPEN D EN T CLAUSES S EPARATED BY A CON JUN CTION


An ind ep end ent clau se is a grou p of w ord s that can form a com p lete sentence w ithou t d ep end ing on another clau se to be com p lete. If tw o ind ep end ent clauses are joined by a coord inating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so), the conju nction m u st have a com m a before it. A com m a is also necessary w hen tw o ind ep end ent clau ses are joined by a p air of correlating conju nctions such as either/or, neither/nor, and not only/but also. EXAMPLES: The new cars arrived yesterd ay, and ou rs w ill be d elivered tom orrow . (coord inating) Most of the lectu re w as interesting, but som e stu d ents w ere bored . (coord inating) N ot only d id I go to Mexico, but I also w ent to H ond u ras and Belize. (correlating)

A FTER IN TROD UCTORY A D VERBS AN D PHRASES


Com m as are u sed after introd u ctory ad verbs, as w ell as after introd uctory p articip ial, infinitive, and p rep ositional p hrases. (A p articip ial p hrase acts as an ad jective or ad verb and begins w ith the -ing or -ed form of a verb. An infinitive verb p hrase is a verb p reced ed by the w ord to. A p rep ositional p hrase begins w ith a p rep osition and end s w ith a nou n [the object of the p rep osition ].) EXAMPLES: Incidentally, I w as not late this m orning. (ad verb) Hoping for the best, she ap p roached her m other. (p articip ial p hrase) To arrive on time, w e m u st leave here by six. (infinitive p hrase) In the dark, you looked like a thief. (p rep ositional p hrase)

A FTER AN IN TROD UCTORY, D EPEN D EN T CLAUSE


A d epend ent clau se is a grou p of w ord s that cannot stand alone as a com p lete sentence. An introd u ctory d ep end ent clau se often begins w ith a su bord inating conjunction su ch as although, after, because, if, since, until, when, as, while, etc. that makes it d ep end ent on a second clau se. EXAMPLES: Although she is w earing red, blu e is her favorite color. When D ad gets home from w ork, w e w ill eat d inner.

BETWEEN COORD IN ATIN G A D JECTIVES


A com m a is used to separate coord inating ad jectives, w hich are d escriptive w ord s that m od ify the sam e nou n and cou ld be w ritten in the op p osite ord er in the sentence. These ad jectives can also be sep arated by the w ord and instead of a comm a. EXAMPLES: H is arrogant, condescending m anner annoyed u s. (H is m anner is arrogant and cond escend ing.) Everyone loved ou r former math teacher. (There is no com m a betw een former and math becau se the sentence w ou ld not m ake sense if the w ord s w ere reversed : math former teacher.)

Utah Valley University Writing Center

Usage Comma Rules


A ROUN D N ON ESSEN TIAL WORD S
Com m as are u sed to set off nonessential w ord s, p hrases, or clauses. These ap pear after a nou n and can be rem oved from the sentence w ithou t changing its m eaning. EXAMPLES: The qu ality of the m aterial, how ever, w as beyond qu estion. (w ord ) Mr. Green is, in my opinion, a very successfu l salesm an. (p hrase) My father, w ho w as born in southern Utah, is 83 years old . (clau se) (The clau se, who was born in southern Utah, is not necessary to id entify my father becau se I only have one father.) In contrast, com m as are not u sed to set off essential p hrases or clau ses, w hich are need ed to give the sentence its com plete meaning. EXAMPLES: I have tw o sisters. The sister who lives in Japan is com ing to visit. (Because I have tw o sisters, the p hrase, who lives in Japan, is necessary to id entify w hich sister Im referring to. Com m as shou ld not be u sed .) The com mittee reached a d ecision that w as not popular. (The ad jective clau se, that was not popular, is necessary to know w hich d ecision w as reached . Com m as shou ld not be u sed .) The car with the flat tire and broken w indshield w as in the shop . (The p hrase, with the flat tire and broken windshield, is necessary to show w hich car w as in the shop . Com mas shou ld not be u sed .)
N OTE: Clau ses beginning w ith which are alw ays p reced ed by a com m a w hereas clau ses beginning w ith that are never p reced ed by a com m a.

A ROUN D A PPOSITIVES
Com m as are u sed to set off ap p ositives, which are w ord s or phrases that renam e a nou n. EXAMPLES: Lacrosse, a sport played hundreds of years ago, is still p opu lar. The award was given to Jan, Carols daughter.

BEFORE AN D A FTER Q UOTATION S


Com m as are used to separate quotations from the sentences in w hich they are found . Closing com m as and p eriod s alm ost alw ays go insid e the qu otation m arks. EXAMPLE: Research, she said , has fou nd that an u nhealthy d iet increases the risk of cancer.

WITH PLACE N AMES AN D D ATES


A com m a should separate the nam e of a city from its state, and if a city is listed w ith its state or country, a com m a is also need ed after the nam e of the state or country. When d ates are w ritten, a com m a is need ed betw een the d ate and year and betw een the nam e of a d ay and its d ate. If a d ate, m onth, and year are listed together, a com m a is need ed after the year as w ell. EXAMPLES: We m oved here from Salt Lake City, Utah, three m onths ago. (Use a com m a after the city and after the state.) On Tuesday, August 13, 1998, I m oved to Texas. (Use a com m a after the d ay, the d ate, and the year.) We m oved here from San Francisco three m onths ago. (N o com m a is necessary if you have only one elem ent of a d ate or p lace nam e.)

A ROUN D N OUN S OF D IRECT A D D RESS


Com m as set off nou ns of d irect ad d ress, w hich are the n am es of ind ivid u als being sp oken to. EXAMPLES: Jamie, p lease clean you r room . Please tell us, Mr. Thomas, how you cam e up w ith this m arvelous m achine.

Utah Valley University Writing Center