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Comma Rules

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by

Heather Sulski

on 9 December 2013

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Transcript of Comma Rules

COMMA RULES
A little dot with a tail; how could such a thing be relevant to a language? It could, for goodness’ sake, be mistaken for a smudge on the page. Yet, people get so fired up about comma use that it appears to be a matter of life or death.
EXAMPLE:

I am going to eat Grandfather.
I am going to eat, Grandfather.
As you can see from the above examples, it can be a matter of life or death.
RULE #1
When writing a date, a comma is used to separate the day from the month, and the date from the year.
examples:

The American Declaration of Independence was ratified on July 4, 1776.

I was born on Sunday, May 12, 1968.

On Tuesday, April 13th at three o’clock, there will be a meeting for all staff.

Please join us on Saturday, June 14th, 2010, for the marriage of Annie and Michael.
RULE #2
Introductory clauses are dependent clauses which are found at the beginning of the sentence. After a dependent introductory clause, we use a comma to separate the introductory clause from the independent clause.
examples:

As the man was walking into the store, he came face-to-face with his childhood sweetheart.

Now then, we should head back home because the baby needs a nap.
RULE #3
When creating a list of two or more things, commas should be used to separate each category in the list. There is no formula for this: you must use logic and reason to understand the categories.
examples:
I cleaned the house and the garage, raked the lawn, and took out the garbage.

For the bouquet of roses, I selected three red ones, three white ones, and two black ones.
RULE #4
When creating a list or series of multiple things which are similar, commas should be used to separate each item in the list.
examples:
Teenagers are often anxious to grow up, get a job, and move out of their parents’ house.

I still have to buy a gift, pack the suitcases, and arrange for someone to water the plants while we’re at the wedding.

Mary needs bread, milk, and butter at the grocery store.
RULE #5
Originally used by Oxford University Press, this is the comma which is used before "and" in a list. British English does not use the Oxford comma. It certainly has its purpose when used to eliminate confusion, but it is used consistently – whether it’s required for clarity or not.

American English insists on the use of the Oxford comma.
examples:

The American flag is red, white, and blue.

Margaret, Martha, and Martin went to the movies.
RULE #6
An introductory phrase is like a clause, but it doesn’t have its own subject and verb; it relies on the subject and verb in the main clause.
examples:
Fighting against reason, Martha decided to pull an all-nighter in hopes of passing the exam.
Between March and April, the little boy grew three inches.
Without understanding why, Annie woke from a deep sleep with an urge to check on her children.
RULE #7
examples:
When two independent clauses are joined by a coordinating conjunction (e.g. and, but, or, so), there must be a comma before the conjunction, or it will be a run-on sentence. Independent clauses are complete sentences; if you could put a period after the clause but have instead used just a conjunction, then you’ve created a run-on sentence.

Matthew went to the library, and I headed back to the science lab.

The man’s business was failing, so he was searching for alternative income.

Anna went to make a strong cup of coffee, for she was falling asleep at her desk.
RULE #8
examples:
Interrupters are little thoughts in the middle of a thought, added to show emotion, tone or emphasis. When we use an interrupter in the middle of the sentence, it should be emphasized with commas. Without the use of commas, the flow of the sentence may be awkward for the reader.
Queen Victoria was, as they say, a formidable woman.

It does, indeed, look like rain.

Having demonstrated a decided lack of ethics, the CEO was, needless to say, dismissed from the company.
RULE #9
examples:
An appositive is a noun or phrase that explains or renames the noun or pronoun next to it in a sentence. If the appositive adds meaning to sentence but is not necessary for the sentence to make sense, it should be placed in commas. (The commas can "cut out" the appositive.)
Alex Williams, a journalist for The New York Times, wrote "Buying into the Green Movement."

The rose, a deep red color, stood out amongst the tiny white flowers.

Martha, yawning with exhaustion, sat down at her desk to finish her last paper.
RULE #10
examples:
A group of words which offers a contrast to the subject of the sentence may need to have a comma on either side to separate it from the main idea. Look for words such as not, unlike and never; these signify a contrasting idea. By putting a comma on either side, the contrasting idea is made clear to the reader, and the subject is clearly modified.

Mary, unlike Ann, is very organized.

Tea should be steeped, never boiled.

Ice hockey, not road hockey, is a good winter sport.
RULE #11
examples:
When one has several co-ordinate adjectives (i.e. a list of adjectives which do not have to be in any particular order), a comma is used to separate them. This is done for clarity and emphasis.
That man is a pompous, self-righteous, annoying idiot.

The sweet, scintillating aroma of cinnamon buns filled the kitchen.
RULE #12
examples (what not to do):
Complex sentences are sentences which have two clauses. There can be two independent clauses, or an independent clause and a dependent clause. Generally, if the dependent clause comes second, a comma is not used before the dependent clause. Frequently, but not always, a conjunction will begin the dependent clause.
I need to do the shopping, because there is nothing to eat in the house.

I’ll put the book down and sleep, when I can no longer keep my eyes open.
RULE #13
examples:
Complex sentences are sentences which have two clauses. There can be two independent clauses, or an independent clause and a dependent clause. Generally, if the dependent clause comes second, a comma is not used before the dependent clause. Frequently, but not always, a conjunction will begin the dependent clause.
I need to do the shopping, because there is nothing to eat in the house.

I’ll put the book down and sleep, when I can no longer keep my eyes open.
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