young boy studying commas

Commas

Introduction

Writers use commas to separate parts of a sentence to make it easier to read and understand. They can also be used to help create a specific tone or emphasis. However, it is not always easy to know where to place a comma, so some writers avoid using them altogether. Some writers even use too many commas, which can make their writing appear cluttered or confusing.

With plenty of practice and a solid understanding of the rules, you can learn to use commas effectively and improve the clarity of your own writing.

Exercise One

In your own words, explain why the commas help make the message of the following sentence clear to the reader:

Before I left school, I checked to make sure I had my school bag, homework diary and blazer so my mother, who was waiting in the car, would not have to complain about me being forgetful again.

Exercise Two

Insert the missing commas in the correct position.

  1. There was no question that John’s painting a huge colourful and ugly mural was the worst entry in the art exhibit.
  2. J.K. Rowling Roald Dahl and Suzanne Collins respected writers of children’s literature are taught in lots of schools in the UK.
  3. Cready’s ability to say the wrong thing at the wrong time is I believe amazing.
  4. Running around the house the dog was abruptly stopped by a fence.
  5. If the opposition should win our candidate would never have any political future.
  6. Gracefully lightly and daintily the ballerina moved across the stage.
  7. Glamour the woman’s fashion magazine recently incorporated with Charm another fashion journal.
  8. Joe was born on May 7 2005 and his best friend was born exactly two months later on July 7 2005.
  9. Mrs. Kwon my parents’ best friends sat in front of us at the football game.
  10. November 11 1918 the armistice ending World War I was signed.
  11. The girl with the bright friendly smile wore a bright green scarf to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.
  12. As she read “The Hunger Games” she became aware of the story’s genius.
  13. Dauphin Island located off the coast of Alabama is a favourite spot for fishing.
  14. She was as a matter of fact mainly interested in showing off her vocabulary.
  15. I often go to the seashore and collect rocks there.
  16. Before reaching the summit of the climbers were forced by a storm to turn back.
  17. Did you know that Seamus Heaney the poet from Northern Ireland also wrote several plays?
  18. Lady Jane Grey was the queen of England from July 10 1553 to July 19 1553.
  19. Joseph registered for the football team chess club and school mentor.
  20. After discussing “Holes” we agreed that Louis Sachar could really tell a good story.
  21. Squaw Valley California the scene of the winter Olympics in 1960 is a ski resort.
  22. Tomorrow I believe is the last day to register to vote in the November election.
  23. To perform well on Saturday afternoon the athlete must train every day of the week.
  24. Understanding history increases your understanding of today’s world.
  25. Meg Fischer my cousin hopes to graduate from Bloomfield High School in two years.

Exercise Three

  1. He reads everything: road maps wanted ads and cereal boxes.
  2. Having cut the roses she decided to bring them to her friend in the hospital.
  3. “When” Jamie asked “will you return my book?”
  4. The problems involved in this operation are I think numerous.
  5. Alice who does not usually tell anyone what she feels said she didn’t want to go to the dance.
  6. To get tickets for some East End musicals one has to order three months in advance.
  7. Listening to the radio Ellie heard an announcement that Spangler her own dog was lost.
  8. I used to live in Astoria Gardens but we have since moved to 18 Upper Main Street.
  9. The Valley of the Moon the name of a section in Napa County California is the heart of the state’s wine producing area.
  10. Chris did not see how he could organize write and proofread this paper in only two hours.
  11. By the pilings of the old pier I found four starfish a clam and a sea anemone.
  12. Yes Helen did mention that all three of you were coming for lunch.
  13. I believe therefore that peer mentors are good influences in schools.
  14. My birthday is on February 18th 1980
  15. When I go to the supermarket I like to go directly to the frozen food section first.
  16. For Tom’s birthday he received a new car a radio and a gold watch.
  17. If I know it is going to rain outside I will never wash my car.
  18. Every night while my mum makes dinner I set the table.
  19. My teacher who teaches me English reminds me of a devil.
  20. Tim’s mum always said “If you want to go out and play, you must finish your homework first.”
  21. Robin has snapped at everyone who has crossed her path today.
  22. Marie’s favorite fruits are pineapples peaches and apples
  23. Carl and Marie will be going fishing next Saturday and they plan to bring their dog too.
  24. In John’s letter to his sister he wrote “Please remember to bring back my blue colored shirt when you come home for Christmas”.
  25. I was on my way to the store and I realized that I forgot my wallet.

Now you have practised using commas, let’s take a look the technical reasons why this simple punctuation is so important.

Commas for Lists

Using commas to separate items in a list is a great way to avoid confusion. For example, the commas in “I need to buy apples, bananas, and oranges” makes it clear to the reader there are three items in this list.

Separating Clauses

Commas are used to separate different parts of a sentence. This is incredibly important when you are writing an essay for homework or trying to describe an incident in more detail. Inevitably, your sentences will be increasingly complex and you do not want your reader to become confused.

Introductory Phrases

You need to use a comma if the sentence begins with an introductory phrase. For example,

  • After finishing my homework, I went to bed.
  • In my opinion, the book was very entertaining.
  • However, we need to look closer at other reasons why the team lost the game yesterday.

Commas for Parenthesis

Commas can also separate non-essential information, such as parenthetical phrases:

  • My sister, who is a doctor, is coming to visit.
  • The book, in my humble opinion, was very entertaining.
  • The train, which is normally on time, was late arriving at the station.

Notice how the sentence would still make sense if you removed these phrases in the middle.

Separating Independent Clauses

Commas are also used to separate two independent clauses that are joined by a coordinating conjunction:

  • I wanted to go to the party, but I had to study.
  • She wanted to go to the beach, but it was raining outside.
  • He didn’t study for the test, so he failed.
  • Mark loves to read, and Emily loves to watch movies.

Adding Tone

Finally, you can use commas to indicate a pause or change in tone, such as when using direct address or adding emphasis:

  • John, can you please pass the salt?
  • I love you, but I can’t marry you.

Conclusion

Commas can be difficult to use because their role depends on a range of factors, including the context, sentence structure, and the writer’s intent. In fact, there are many situations where the use of a comma is optional or dependent on the writer’s preference. This confusion often leads to students comma splicing – joining two separate sentences together with a comma.

Keep writing and using commas until you find your own voice and style.

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Thanks for reading!