What is a Comma in English Punctuation? - The English Digest

What is a Comma in English Punctuation?

May 13, 2024 English Comments Off

What is a Comma in English Punctuation?

A comma is a punctuation mark used in English to indicate a pause between parts of a sentence or to separate different elements within a sentence. It helps clarify the meaning of sentences by grouping and separating words, phrases, and clauses.

Examples Demonstrating the Importance of Commas

  1. Let’s eat Grandma vs. Let’s eat, Grandma.
    • Without a comma, it sounds like a suggestion to eat grandma.
    • With a comma, it clearly addresses Grandma and suggests eating together.
  2. We’re going to cut and paste kids vs. We’re going to cut and paste, kids.
    • Without a comma, it mistakenly suggests cutting and pasting children.
    • With a comma, it addresses children about what we are going to do.
  3. It’s time to eat people vs. It’s time to eat, people.
    • Without a comma, the sentence suggests cannibalism.
    • With a comma, it’s a call to people to start eating.
  4. I like cooking my family and pets vs. I like cooking, my family, and pets.
    • Without commas, it implies cooking family and pets.
    • With commas, it lists liking cooking, family, and pets separately.
  5. She finds inspiration in cooking her family and her dogs vs. She finds inspiration in cooking, her family, and her dogs.
    • Without commas, it again suggests cooking her family and dogs.
    • With commas, it expresses that her inspiration comes from cooking, her family, and her dogs.

Number of Usages with Examples

1. Commas with ‘but’ and ‘and’:

  • Use a comma before ‘but’ and ‘and’ when they connect two independent clauses.
  • Examples:
    • I wanted to buy the book, but it was too expensive.
    • She can join us for dinner, and she might bring a friend.

2. Avoiding Comma Splices:

  • Do not use a comma to join two independent clauses without a conjunction.
  • Examples:
    • Incorrect: I love to read, I don’t have time.
    • Correct: I love to read, but I don’t have time.

3. Commas with Relative Clauses:

  • Use commas to separate non-restrictive relative clauses, which add non-essential information.
  • Examples:
    • My brother, who lives in New York, is visiting.
    • The car, which was bought last year, is already broken.

4. Commas with Appositives:

  • Use commas to separate appositives that provide additional non-essential information about a noun.
  • Examples:
    • Sandra Bullock, an actress, won an Oscar.
    • Washington, the capital of the United States, is located in the District of Columbia.

5. Commas with Introductory Phrases:

  • Use a comma after introductory words, phrases, or clauses that precede the main clause.
  • Examples:
    • After the show, we went out for coffee.
    • Unfortunately, I will not be able to join you.

6. Commas with Dates:

  • Use commas to separate the day from the month, and the date from the year.
  • Examples:
    • April 18, 1953, was a significant day.
    • She was born on July 4, 1976, in the summer of the Bicentennial.

7. Commas with Coordinate Adjectives:

  • Use commas to separate coordinate adjectives that equally modify a noun.
  • Examples:
    • It was a long, exciting journey.
    • She wore a beautiful, elegant dress.

8. Commas with Interrupters or Parenthetical Elements:

  • Use commas to enclose clauses, phrases, or words that can be omitted without changing the essential meaning of the sentence.
  • Examples:
    • My brother, by the way, is getting married.
    • The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.

9. Commas between Direct Quotes and Attributive Tags:

  • Use a comma to separate a direct quote from the attributive tag.
  • Examples:
    • “Let’s go to the park,” she suggested.
    • “I don’t know,” he admitted, “what you’re talking about.”

10. Commas with Quotation Marks:

  • Place commas inside quotation marks when they are part of the quoted material.
  • Examples:
    • “When you’re finished,” she said, “come see me.”
    • “Well,” he mused, “that’s quite a story.”

11. Commas with Parentheses:

  • Place commas outside parentheses when the parenthetical remark is part of a larger sentence.
  • Examples:
    • He finally answered (after a lengthy pause), and we were relieved to hear the news.
    • You will need to bring many items (such as a sleeping bag, a tent, and a flashlight), especially if you plan to camp.

12. Commas with Question Tags:

  • Use a comma before a question tag that follows a statement.
  • Examples:
    • It’s cold today, isn’t it?
    • You’re coming with us, right?

13. Commas with Direct Address:

  • Use commas to separate the name being addressed.
  • Examples:
    • Lisa, can you help me with this?
    • Thanks, Mom, for your help.

14. Commas with ‘as well as’:

  • Use commas when ‘as well as’ is part of a non-essential clause.
  • Examples:
    • He, as well as his friends, is invited.
    • The package, as well as the letter, was placed on the table.

15. Commas with ‘such as’:

  • Use commas to separate examples that are introduced by ‘such as.’
  • Examples:
    • We need more citrus fruits, such as oranges and lemons.
    • In big cities, such as New York and Chicago, life is fast-paced.

16. Commas with ‘too’:

  • Use a comma before ‘too’ at the end of a sentence.
  • Examples:
    • I would like to go there, too.
    • She felt that way, too.

Comma Mistakes to Avoid

Do not use commas to separate the subject from the verb.

  • Incorrect: My friend, likes to read.
  • Correct: My friend likes to read.

Avoid using unnecessary commas in restrictive clauses, where the information is essential to the meaning of the sentence.

  • Incorrect: The book that I borrowed, is overdue.
  • Correct: The book that I borrowed is overdue.

Avoid Using Commas After Conjunctions:

  • Explanation: Commas should not be placed immediately after conjunctions like ‘and,’ ‘but,’ ‘or,’ and ‘so’ when they follow another clause.
  • Incorrect Example: She was tired, but, she still went to the party.
  • Correct Example: She was tired, but she still went to the party.

Do Not Use a Comma Between Correlative Conjunctions:

  • Explanation: Avoid placing commas between elements of correlative conjunction pairs such as “either…or,” “neither…nor,” “not only…but also.”
  • Incorrect Example: She is interested either, in singing, or in dancing.
  • Correct Example: She is interested either in singing or in dancing.

Avoid Commas in Simple Compound Predicates:

  • Explanation: Do not use commas to separate the elements of a compound predicate (multiple verbs sharing the same subject).
  • Incorrect Example: She grabbed her bag, and left the house.
  • Correct Example: She grabbed her bag and left the house.

Do Not Use a Comma Between Adjective and Noun:

  • Explanation: A comma should not separate a single adjective from the noun it modifies.
  • Incorrect Example: The tall, man stood up.
  • Correct Example: The tall man stood up.

Avoid Unnecessary Commas with Subordinate Clauses After Main Clauses:

  • Explanation: When a subordinate clause follows a main clause, it typically does not need to be preceded by a comma, unless it’s non-restrictive or adds additional, non-essential information.
  • Incorrect Example: She went to the grocery store, although she had already been there that morning.
  • Correct Example: She went to the grocery store although she had already been there that morning.

Do Not Separate Two Nouns That Appear Together as a Single Subject or Object:

  • Explanation: Avoid placing a comma between nouns that jointly form a single subject or object.
  • Incorrect Example: The writer, and poet will be speaking tonight.
  • Correct Example: The writer and poet will be speaking tonight.

Avoid Commas After Short Introductory Elements:

  • Explanation: Short introductory elements (fewer than four words) do not usually require a comma.
  • Incorrect Example: In the end, we all felt better about the decision.
  • Correct Example: In the end we all felt better about the decision.

Do Not Place a Comma Before the First Item or After the Last Item in a Series:

  • Explanation: Commas should be used to separate items within a series, but not before the first item or after the last item.
  • Incorrect Example: My favorite hobbies are, reading, hiking, playing soccer, and painting.
  • Correct Example: My favorite hobbies are reading, hiking, playing soccer, and painting.

Avoid Separating Essential Modifiers from the Words They Modify:

  • Explanation: Do not place commas around modifiers that limit or focus the meaning of the words they modify.
  • Incorrect Example: The cupcake, with sprinkles is hers.
  • Correct Example: The cupcake with sprinkles is hers.

Do Not Use a Comma to Separate the Verb from Its Object:

  • Explanation: A comma should not disrupt the connection between a verb and its direct object.
  • Incorrect Example: She visited, several historic sites.
  • Correct Example: She visited several historic sites.

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