Comma Trauma!

Let’s face it, commas are a pain! They are always showing up when they aren’t needed and forget to come when they are. Not the most reliable of punctuation marks, but they aren’t as difficult as they may appear. Here are some useful hints to help you avoid ‘Comma Trauma!!’

1.  Insert a comma after introductory words or phrases. Common introductory words/phrases include: words ending in –ly, however, therefore, for instance, for example, excuse me, I beg your pardon, etc.

Here are a few examples of sentences with introductory words:

  • Fortunately, the sun finally came out, and the picnic was saved.
  • For example, my best friend’s brother has six toes on each foot.
  • By the way, have you seen my red sweater?

2.  Use a comma before a conjunction when it connects two complete thoughts. Conjunctions are the little connecting words in a sentence. They can easily be remembered by using the acronym FANBOYS (For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So). If you could take out the conjunction and have two complete, separate sentences, then a comma should be used before the conjunction.

Here are a few examples of sentences with conjunctions that require a comma:

  • Joey threw a ball at me, so I ran and told the teacher.
  • You may go to the mall, but you must clean your room first.
  • Put on a jacket before you leave, and take out the trash on your way.

Here are a few examples of sentences with conjunctions that don’t require a comma because they don’t contain two complete thoughts:

  • With her allowance Claire bought some make-up and a soda.
  • My grandmother loves me so much!
  • I haven’t had time to finish my paper yet. 

3.  Commas are used to separate items in a list within a sentence. When the list contains four or more pieces, use a comma before each individual list item. If the list only contains three items, you can choose whether or not to use a comma between the last two.

Here are a few examples of sentences with short (three item) lists using two commas:

  • For dinner we are having steak, green beans, and mashed potatoes.
  • Before leaving the house, Holly always makes sure she has her keys, her purse, and her wallet.

Here are a few examples of sentences with short (three item) lists using only one comma:

  • In math class we are learning how to add, subtract and multiply.
  • In the morning Jane will have to finish her homework, take out the trash and catch the bus.

Either way is acceptable for short lists. It will usually come down to Teacher/Editors preference.

Here are a few examples of sentences with long (four or more item) lists. Always use commas between each item in longer lists:

  • Anna bought milk, cheese, butter, and bread at the market.
  • Mrs. Patterson has a fish, a gerbil, a salamander, a bird, and a rabbit.

4.  When a sentence contains extra information which could be removed from the sentence without changing the point, that ‘side thought’ requires a comma at the beginning and the end. These ‘side thoughts’ are not imperative to the sentence structure; they merely provide the reader with a little more insight into the subject.

Here are a few examples of sentences with ‘side thoughts’:

  • Mark Appleby, a 45 year old teacher, was driving through a rainstorm.
  • Joanna Rigby, a girl in my writing class, is the teacher’s pet.
  • Suzie’s new pet pig, an ugly little pink thing, squeals all day long!

5.  When directly addressing someone, whether using their name or another word to represent their name, use a comma before and after the address.

Here are a few examples of sentences where someone is directly addressed:

  • Hey, Joey, where were you last night?
  • Mama, can I go outside and play?
  • Oh my, Caroline, I didn’t see you there.
  • You know, Sweetheart, I was thinking the same thing.
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