Saturday, August 4, 2007



The comma is the most frequently used and the most frequently misused punctuation mark. The omission of a necessary comma can distort the meaning of a sentence. Unnecessary commas can distract the reader and give the sentence a jerky quality. This handout will present the four rules that will give you a good indication of when to use commas. If the sentence you are writing is not covered by one of these rules remember this: leave the comma out!

Four Comma Rules:
1. Use commas to separate items in a series of three or more. Examples:
· Required subjects are math, English, bookkeeping, and business law.
· Walk up the hill, turn left, go two blocks, and you’ll be there.
· Henry went to the show, Joan went home in tears, Norah and Phil talked until dawn, and I went upstairs.

Try These
Following rule number one, insert commas where necessary:

1. Be sure to pick up mik bread cheese and wine.
2. I am going to hire a cleaning man to clean floors dust furniture scour the oven and wash clothes.
3. Tim stomped into the room threw himself into a chair drained a six-pack of Keith’s and crushed the can against his forehead.

2. Use commas to separate from the rest of the sentence any word or expression that is not essential to the sentence’s meaning or that means the same as something else in the sentence.
· Writing business letters isn’t difficult, if you’re careful.
(The phrase “isn’t difficult” is not essential to the meaning of the sentence.)
· Stephen Leacock, one of the world’s great humorists, was a professor of economies at McGill.
(The phrase “ one of the world’s great humorists” means the same as “Stephen Leacock.” The two expressions refer to the same person.)
· If it were up to me, Judy, I’d hire you.
(The word “Judy” is not essential, or necessary, to the meaning of the sentence.)

Try These
Following rule number 2, insert commas in the appropriate places:

1. What’s it all about Alfie?
2. The cheetah is of course the fastest animal on earth.
3. Many children in this school it seems are coming in the morning without having had an adequate breakfast.

3. Place a comma between independent clauses when they are joined by these linking words: and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet. (coordinating conjunctions)
· It was a good party, but last year’s was better.
· I’m not speaking to her, so you’ll have to tell her.
· I can’t make it to class, yet I feel I should go.
· Ross is a good student, for he studies hard.

Try These
Following rule number three, insert commas where necessary:
1. I refuse to wear that turkey costume to the party nor will I go as a horse’s rear end.
2. Yesterday he broke up with her but today he’s begging for her forgiveness.
3. The day was clear and warm so we spent the afternoon on our sailboat.

4. Put a comma after any word or group of words that comes before an independent clause.
· Charley, you aren’t paying attention. (The second rule applies here to.)
· Though tattered and torn, the book was a fortune.
· Wherever you go, remember me.
· If that’s all there is, we’d better buy more.
· Until he got his promotion, he was quite friendly.

Try These
Insert commas where necessary:
1. Esmeralda please leave those plants on the table.
2. Third insert your finger into the electrical socket.
3. Overwhelmed by the generous offer we spent the evening watching Paul’s home movies.

Copy the following sentences into your notes. Using all four rules, insert commas into the following sentences where necessary

1. His face turned purple when he saw the exam results but he said nothing.
2. Clarity conciseness and courtesy are important in both personal and business communication.
3. The Blue Jays in case you haven’t noticed have been playing better ball this season.
4. Unless you come with us now you won’t be able to get to the island tonight.
5. Samuel de Champlain Jacques Cartier and Etienne Brule were among the first Europeans to explore what is now Canada.
6. In spite of its reputation the Spadina Hotel is you know a good place to have a drink.
7. Adam and Eve are supposed to have been the first people on earth but they apparently ran into some trouble with their supervisor.
8. Cedric why are you wearing those nose plugs?
9. Running jumping and shouting loudly the hildren ran across the yard and into the house.
10. Unless I am sadly mistaken you now have a firm grasp of the intricacies of comma use.

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