Do not underestimate the importance of accurate punctuation. It can make a world of difference in your writing.
The comma is one of the most important punctuation marks; however, it is commonly misused.
In general, a comma represents a short pause. If you read your work aloud, you can often determine where commas might be necessary. This, however, is not a foolproof method. There are times when a semicolon or dash, or other punctuation might be better or required.
Also, if English is not your first language, this method could fail more often than it succeeds because your intonation and flow might be very different.
Here are some of the best uses of the comma.
When you want to join two sentences together (independent clauses) with a coordinating conjunction, you need a comma. Don’t worry, there are only seven coordinating conjunctions. Here is a mnemonic to help remember them:
FANBOYS = for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so
Example: Frank loves to ride in cars, but he hates trains.
Note, however, that you should not have a comma if you are joining a dependent clause.
Example: Frank loves to ride in cars but hates trains. (“Hates trains” is not a sentence – it is not independent.)
In a series
When listing items in a series, you should have commas between the items. Most Canadian guidebooks suggest using a comma before the “and” as well.
Example: Jennifer bought eggs, milk, butter, and bread at the local store.
You use commas for lists of phrases and clauses, too.
Examples: The dog ran to the fence, jumped over it, and captured the ball.
We went out for dinner, and we went to the movies, but we did not go to the pub.
When you are addressing someone in the sentence, use a comma to separate the person being addressed.
Examples: Mary, did you see the envelope on the table?
Was it you, Bob, who went to Europe on the holiday?
I think you should come with me, Theodore.
Introductory words, phrases, or clauses
Examples: After they won the game, the players celebrated into the night.
While we were eating, a dog ran over our picnic basket!
Without the comma, the reader might at first confuse your meaning at times.
While we were eating a dog (ran over our picnic basket!)
Yikes! Please, don’t eat Fluffy!
Conjunctive adverbs and transitional expressions.
There are lots of these. Here are some very common ones: however, therefore, for instance, as a matter of fact, consequently.
Example: The children, however, were not at all interested in the game.
Therefore, not one of the participants declined the offer.
Note: The rule is a semicolon before and a comma after the conjunctive adverb or transitional expression if you are joining full sentences.
Example: We were late to arrive; therefore, we did not hear Josh’s speech.
Yes and No
Examples: Yes, I do think resolving the conflict will be difficult.
No, you don’t have to close the door.
There are many more uses of the comma, but these will get you started and help you avoid many mistakes.
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