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10/28/2015

Grammar Help: Using the Comma

We wind up this month's look at punctuation with a punctuation mark so versatile that it needs its own post- the comma. Here are the rules you should follow when applying the comma.

Commas and Lists

Commas separate groups of three or more items: "I like soccer, football, and baseball." Avoid confusion by using the Oxford comma, the final comma before "and."

Commas Between Interchangeable Adjectives

When you have two interchangeable adjectives, use a comma to separate them: "the big, sturdy pole." If the adjectives are not interchangeable, as in "the windy ski resort," you do not add a comma.

Independent and Dependent Clauses

Two independent clauses joined by a conjunction such as "and," "but," or "or," require a comma before the conjunction, not after. Notice how I used a comma to demonstrate contrast? Another one of its uses. Do not simply use a comma to join two complete sentences, which results in a run-on. Commas set off dependent clauses and introductory phrases from the main clause. "As I walked to the store, my legs began to tire."

Commas and Introductory Words

Commas separate after certain words that introduce a sentence: "well," "so," "why," for example. "Why, this is useful information about the comma."

Using Commas with Asides

Also use commas for sentence interruptions, or asides, as in, "I must say, by the way, that knowing how to use commas is pretty cool," and, "I think Julie, who is my sister, is a comma expert."

Parenthetical Phrases and Commas

The same goes for parenthetical phrases within the sentence. "My main goal, to lose weight, is furthered by my determination to walk to the store."

Using Commas for Locations and Dates

Use commas to separate a city from state and country, and to set off the month and day from the year. "I visited Fairbanks, Alaska on January 15, 2015." The last comma is not necessary if you omit the day: "I visited Fairbanks in January 2015."

Nicknames and Commas

Commas also set off names, nicknames, and terms of endearment from the rest of the sentence, and to separate titles from names. "Mary, I walked by your house the other day and saw our old doctor, James Walker, M.D."

Commas and Quotation Marks

Use commas to separate quotations, before and after if the quotation is in the middle of the sentence. For example: John used to say, "Howdy doody, neighbors," to us every morning.

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