Comma Basics

Commas create structure and fluidity to your writing and are an essential part of punctuation. Yet, commas are arguably one of the most challenging aspects of punctuation and grammar in the entire English language! There are many uses for them as well as many rules and exceptions that become confusing at times. You can use this page as a reference to the rules of commas and hopefully soon you will feel less haunted by them and your writing will improve slightly but dramatically.

Use a comma when..

1) Separating independent clauses when used with a conjunction or in a compound sentence 

An independent clause is a complete thought that consists of a subject and noun. Conjunctions are any of the following words: and, but, or, for, nor, so, yet. When used together a comma must separate them.

Julia got home from work early, so she took a nap. 

Adriana is very good at math, but she failed last weeks test. 

My father says he misses me, yet he never comes to visit. 

The first part of these sentences there is a complete idea the comma followed by a conjunction separates the second idea in the sentences.

2)After introductory words, phrases, or clauses

A common example of this use is when you write a letter or email. You generally address the person you are speaking to followed by a comma then begin your first thought.

Dear Maribell,

I miss you dearly, my love..

3)Separating nonessential information from a sentence

A comma is used to separate information that could other wise be excluded from the sentence, but the author chose to include.

The first speaker, who grew up in Alabama, was not very knowledgeable. 

The information about where the speaker was from was not essential to the sentence and if left out would have been a perfectly fine sentence alone.

4)Separating words or ideas almost like a list

Before I go home I need to pick up Becky from swim practice, go to the grocery store, and stop by the post office.

No shirt, no shoes, no service

This use of the comma helps to organize multiple events, nouns, adjectives, or information that goes together. If you don’t follow this rule your writing will appear very sloppy.


5)Separate coordinate adjectives that describe the same noun

Coordinate adjectives are adjectives that go together interchangeably. If the adjectives could be switched in the sentence or joined by and they are coordinate. Commas are used to separate coordinate adjectives.

The fuzzy, warm, fashionable sweater kept me perfectly warm throughout the concert.

Similar to the rule above, separating words or ideas, this rule separates a specific type of adjectives.

6)Geographical titles, dates and addresses

I was born on November 12, 1993

My grandmother lives at 180 Pine Street Atlanta, Georgia 

This is another organizational use of the comma to help organize information.

7)Before quotations  

This use helps to indicate that someone is speaking in text.

He said, “You’re not supposed to to go in there”


Okay, so now that you’ve read all that you’re an expert right?

Maybe not quite, but don’t worry you always have this page to refer to. I challenge you to practice using these rules in your own writing. When you read notice commas in others writing and try to identify why it’s being used.

Happy Writing!