How To Use Commas in English

How To Use Commas in English

How To Use Commas in English

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commassavelivesPunctuation is one of those things that when you get it wrong can irritate and confuse the reader. Even though many places on the internet permit informal speech, failing to put proper punctuation is not only irritating, it will be impossible for people to take you seriously. Lack—or overuse—of punctuation (especially commas) can alter meaning and/or result in ambiguity. Ambiguous sentences are hard to understand and can be misinterpreted, thus potentially putting lives at risk. In English, the rules for commas are complicated and summarizing all of them would make a really long, boring article. Here are some important comma rules to remember.


  1. Use a comma to separate the elements in a series (three or more things), including the last two. For example: “He bought some shoes, went to his house, and put them on.”
  2. Comma_Overview_3_900Use a comma BEFORE a small conjunction (and, but, for, nor, yet, or, so) to connect two independent clauses. For example: “He bought some shoes at the store, but he didn’t try them on until he went home.”
  3. Use a comma to set off introductory elements in a sentence, as in “On the way home, he suddenly realized he bought the wrong size shoes.”
  4. Use a comma to set off parenthetical elements, as in “The Albanian people, who are spread all over the globe, are a proud people.” By “parenthetical element,” we mean a part of a sentence that can be removed without changing the essential meaning of that sentence. The parenthetical element is sometimes called “added information.” This is the most difficult rule in punctuation because it is sometimes unclear what is “added” and what is essential to the meaning of a sentence.
    • When both a city’s name and that city’s state or country’s name are mentioned together, the state or country’s name is treated as a parenthetical element. For example: “We visited Tirana, Albania, last fall.” Or: “Prishtina, Kosovo, is a wonderful place to visit in the summer.”
    • When the state becomes a possessive form, this rule is no longer followed. For example: “Tirana, Albania’s population of stray dogs is not much higher than Madrid, Spain’s.”
    • An addressed person’s name is also always parenthetical. Be sure, however, that the name is that of someone actually being spoken to. For example:”I’m telling you, Besnik, I couldn’t be happier for you.”
  5. stop+clubbing+baby+seals_abf25b_3291039Appositives are almost always treated as parenthetical elements. For example: “Doruntina, his wife of thirty years, was one of the best chefs in the restaurant.” 
  6. Use a comma to set off quoted elements that are full sentences. Generally, use a comma to separate quoted material from the rest of the sentence that explains or introduces the quotation. For example: “Summing up this argument, Ashley Wood writes, “The Albanian people are a very proud people.””
  7. Use commas to set off phrases that express contrast. For example: “It was the culture, not the food, that attracted her to study there.” Or “Albanian food is good, but hard to find in Atlanta.”
  8. Use a comma to avoid confusion. For example (this is confusing and makes me think the writer believes in time travel): “Most of the time travelers worry about their luggage.” However, this avoids confusion: “Most of the time, travelers worry about their luggage.” 

Everything else is either a debatable or very nit-picky rule! For more information, check out this website.

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