Many people get confused about when they should and shouldn’t use a comma in their writing. This blog explains some of the important times a comma should be used. Importantly, it will help you to avoid making comma mistakes.
I’d like to praise my parents, Beyoncé and Bono.
How many people am I praising?
Is it 2 or 4?
I’d like to praise my parents, Beyoncé, and Bono.
Now, how many people are being praised?
What is the oxford comma?
The oxford comma is a comma that is used after the penultimate item in a list of three or more items. Although it is not obligatory, it can be very helpful in clarifying meaning.
In the first example above, I am praising 2 people. Without the oxford comma, it can imply that my parents are Beyoncé and Bono.
In the second example, I am clearly praising 4 people (my parents, Beyoncé, and Bono).
Using the oxford comma will reduce this ambiguity.
It is advised that if you use the oxford comma, it should either be used consistently or not at all. So, for the purpose of this blog, I will use it continuously.
Why use a comma?
Writing is difficult and without the use of tools that we have in conversation, such as instant feedback, tone, and intonation, misunderstandings are more likely to happen.
On top of this, there are spelling, grammar, and word selection considerations we must contemplate. Are commas really an important consideration?
I advise that there are situations where using a comma is very important. Commas effect your writing voice, but there are also grammatical rules that govern when they should be used.
I’d like to take this opportunity to go through 7 instances when a comma should be used. I’ll try to make it as entertaining as possible . . .
Did you know: Using ‘. . .’ is called an ellipsis.
How to use a comma when addressing someone or something
Without the comma, we assume that ‘grandma’ is the object of the verb. So, it doesn’t make sense that you would walk ‘grandma’, like you would walk a dog.
The comma placed in the second example shows that you are directly addressing someone.
How to use a comma in dates (days, months, and years)
You should use a comma when you have a combination of days, months, and years. Have a look at the below examples:
Saturday, March 28, 2020, was the day Ireland was put into lockdown because of COVID-19.
However, when you only mention the month and year, you do not need a comma.
March 2020 was a disturbing month.
When to use commas in an address
You should use a comma to separate each element in an address except for the house number and road name.
When you are using locations in a sentence, commas should also be included.
Dublin, Ireland, is where Bono was born.
Use a comma after introductory adverbs
When you are using adverbs at the start of a sentence, you should use a comma. Examples of these adverbs include:
Interestingly, Apparently, Strangely, Happily, Sadly.
Example: Apparently, Beyoncé and Bono aren’t my parents.
It is not only introductory adverbs that require a comma if they start a sentence. A good example is however. Other examples include on the other hand and furthermore.
Example: However, Bono is my uncle.
Should I use a comma if the first word of a sentence is yes or no?
Yes, is the answer.
A comma and a dependent clause
A dependent clause is a group of words that contains a subject and a verb but does not express a complete thought.
Example: When I sing . . .
This is an incomplete sentence because we are expecting more information.
When I sing, people run away.
We use a comma in this situation. However, if the dependent clause ends the sentence, you don’t need a comma.
People run away when I sing.
A comma and independent clauses
When you want to separate two independent clauses that use the words and, but, for, or, nor, so, and yet, you need to use a comma. Examples:
You understand the rules for commas, so use them appropriately.
I understand the rules, yet they’re difficult.
I know they’re difficult, but they will become easier to use.
I hope these rules have helped you understand the purpose of commas and when they should be used. If there is anything you feel I have left out or you would like to add, please comment below.
If you would like to learn more about English grammar or improve your English, schedule an online English class.
Check out some of our other blogs, such as:
or check out some of the books below:
Have You Eaten Grandma? by Gyles Brandreth
What Made the Crocodile Cry? by Susie Dent
Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss