Punctuation: Commas

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Do you know the rules for where to place commas, or do you still use the I-feel-like-there-should-be-a-pause-here method? Fear not, for the list below will ensure you have a methodical—instead of a shoot-from-the-hip—approach to comma placement.

Introductory Clauses:

  • Rule: If your sentence begins with an introductory clause of more than three words, always follow it with a comma. If fewer than three words, the comma is discretionary (but recommended): “To that end, he conceded guilt.”
  • Exception—Introductory Clause Directly Followed by Verb: If an introductory clause is immediately followed by a verb, then no comma should follow the introductory clause: “The new bill was later approved by Congress.”

Non-Restrictive Elements:

  • Rule: If a clause adds extra information to a sentence that could be removed without altering its core meaning, offset it with commas: “The judge, who was appointed in 2015, ruled in favor of the defendant.”

Parenthetical Asides:

  • Rule: Offset mid-sentence parenthetical asides within a sentence: “The defense attorney, to everyone’s surprise, introduced a new witness.”

Contrasting Elements:

  • Rule: Use a comma to separate contrasting parts of a sentence: “The lawyer is young, not inexperienced.”

Conjunctions Connecting Independent Clauses:

  • Rule: Use a comma before a coordinating conjunction (remember FANBOYS: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) that links two independent clauses: “The evidence was conclusive, so the jury returned a guilty verdict.”

The Oxford Comma:

  • Rule: In a list of three or more items, place commas after each item, including before the conjunction that connects the last two items: “The court must consider the facts, the law, and the evidence presented.”
  • Exception—Repeating Conjunctions: If a list’s items are connected by a repeating conjunction (“and . . . and . . . and . . .”), then no commas are needed: “She was tired and sad and miserable.”

Coordinate Adjectives/Adverbs:

  • Rule: If a string of adjectives/adverbs that modify the same noun can be separated by the word “and,” they are likely coordinate adjectives and should be separated by a comma: “You’ll have to pry my cold, dead hands off the cash.”

Direct Quotations:

  • Rule: When introducing a quote of forty-nine words or fewer, place a comma between the verb of attribution (e.g. asks, says, explains) and the quote: “The witness stated, ‘I saw him at the scene.’”
  • Exception: If the quote is used so that it acts as part of the actual sentence syntax, no comma is necessary: “Although Defendant feels ‘extremely bad’ about ‘misplacing those documents,’ he should still be sanctioned.”

Dates:

  • Month-Day-Year: Use commas to separate the day and year, and after the year if the sentence continues: “The hearing was held on May 17, 2023, at the courthouse.”
  • Month-Year: When using just the month-and-year construction, no comma is needed: “The case was heard in May 2023.”
  • Multiple Dates: When using multiple dates, separate each date with commas: “The hearings will take place on March 7, 2023, April 15, 2023, and May 20, 2023.”
  • Days of the Week: If a day of the week is included in the date, separate it with a comma: “The trial starts on Monday, June 12, 2023.

Places:

  • City/State or City/Country: When including a city and state, or city and country, use commas to separate the elements, and a comma after the state or country if the sentence continues: “Defendant lives in Austin, Texas, where the alleged crime occurred.”
  • Geographic Descriptions: When directly connected, they should not be separated by a comma: “The African nation Kenya has its capital in Nairobi.” If used in a sentence as a descriptor, however, use commas: “The Kenyan capital, Nairobi, is a bustling city.”

For additional examples of common comma crimes, click here.

And if you’ve made it this far, you may as well try some practice problems!

2

1 / 5

1. In the next sentence, how many commas are NECESSARY? The ultimate issue in this race is whether the candidate a lifelong politician can live up to her lofty grandiose promises.

2 / 5

2. Which rewrite of the underlined portion in the sentence below is correct? A vital public space, once it is lost is difficult, if not impossible, to replace.

3 / 5

3. How many commas are NECESSARY in the second sentence? The survey results surprised management because they showed that the employees were generally happy with their training. Another unexpected benefit of the survey was the realization that most employees would prefer better treatment to higher pay.

4 / 5

4. Which rewrite of the underlined portion in the sentence below is correct? His mother secretly hoped that after speaking with his friends, her son would be dissuaded, or at least discouraged; from arguing with the teacher.

5 / 5

5. Which rewrite of the underlined portion in the sentence below is correct? Colorful flowers, such as lilies, roses, tulips, and daffodils, brightened up the drab, dreary room.

Your score is

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