Get a clear idea of how and when to use commas


Get a clear idea of how and when to use commas
People often misuse and abuse these popular punctuation marks every day, and it’s a common problem for many modern students. It’s no wonder you may make this mistake. How and when to use commas in sentences? There are many rules about their correct usage, but those factors that determine whether you need to use it or not are quite subtle, so use this guide for tricky questions.

What is this punctuation mark?

Every writer should know its definition. Some people define it as a soft pause or a special punctuation mark that separates clauses, words, phrases, ideas within the same sentence. While periods end sentences, it indicates smaller breaks. Keep reading to find out how to use it correctly in these instances:
  • With subjects and verbs;
  • Between nouns in compound subjects and objects;
  • Between verbs in compound predicates;
  • After introductory phrases;
  • Within comparisons;
  • With parenthetical elements or interrupters;
  • With question tags;
  • With direct addresses;
  • With appositives;
  • Between coordinate adjectives;
  • In dates;
  • With lists;
  • Inside quotation marks.

How to use it correctly?

There’s no single rule about how and when to use commas, and it means that you should learn many rules to understand how to put it in every situation.

With verbs and subjects

With several exceptions, remember the main rule that it shouldn’t separate items from their verb. It makes sentences seem stilted. Writers often insert it between subjects and verb because speakers pause at a specific point in a sentence, but you should be very careful with complex and long phrases.

Between nouns in compound objects or subjects

Never separate nouns if they appear together as compound objects or subjects because you’ll make a mistake. Don’t use this punctuation mark when listing two subjects. If they consist of 2 items, and one of them is parenthetical, set it off with their help (before and after it).

Between verbs in compound predicates

What are compound predicates? You get compound predicates when the subject of your sentence does more than one thing. If they contain two verbs, don’t use this punctuation mark to separate them. Many students make this mistake if predicates consist of lengthy verb phrases. Another important rule to remember is that you can use them in compound predicates only if there’s a risk of misreading your text.

Comma splices

If it’s necessary to join some independent clauses, you should use semicolons or conjunctions because this punctuation mark isn’t strong enough to serve this purpose. This error is called a comma splice. Feel free to write an independent clause as your separate sentence to avoid this mistake that can hinder the quality of your paper.

After introductory phrases

Commas follow the participial phrases introducing sentences. Use them to avoid a risk of misreading your text and if phrases are longer than 4 words. They can be suitable for shorter phrases if authors need to emphasize them and add pauses to achieve certain literary effects. If adverbial phrases start sentences, follow them by commas. Following this rule isn’t a must, especially if sentences are short.

Within comparisons

Don’t use them before the word “than” when making comparison because it’s a mistake that can easily ruin your marks.

With parenthetical elements or interrupters

Interrupters are those minor ideas that can pop up in the middle of sentences to show emotions, focus on tones, or emphasize something. What are parenthetical elements? These are phrases that add extra data to sentences, but authors can easily remove them without changing the meaning of their writing. Set off parenthetical elements and interrupters.

With question tags

Question tags are short phrases or words that writers add to the end of their statements to turn them into specific questions. Use them to encourage readers to agree with you. Precede your question tags with commas.

With direct addresses

When addressing other people by their names, set them off to improve your content quality and avoid making mistakes.

Between coordinate adjectives

If multiple adjectives modify nouns to equal degrees, they’re coordinate and you should separate them the same way. Switch their order to tell whether adjectives are coordinate. If sentences still sound logical and natural, they’re coordinate. If not, your chosen adjectives aren’t coordinate and it’s a mistake to separate them this way in any sentence of your text.

Inside quotation marks

Here, everything depends on whether you’re writing in British or American English because their rules are contrary. In American English, put commas before closing quotation marks. In British English, rules are opposite and they require you to do that after closing quotation marks in your piece of writing.

With appositives

Appositives are phrases or words that refer to the same object as other nouns in the same sentence. They provide additional information or help distinguish nouns. If it’s possible to remove appositives without changing the meaning of sentences, they’re non-essential and you need to set them off. If appositives are essential, don’t use them.

In dates

If you write dates in their month-day-year format, set years off, but they’re unnecessary when using the day-month-year format. Put them if you reference a day of the week or dates. Don’t do that when referencing only years and months. Or you may always refer to professionals.

Serial commas

If lists contain 2 elements and more, use them to separate all of them, and the final one is optional (it’s a serial or Oxford comma). Its use is a style choice. It eliminates a risk of misreading and it’s necessary for clarity. If these rules aren’t enough to teach you to write academic papers correctly, get expert assistance online and enjoy multiple benefits, your time savings, and good grades at affordable rates.  
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