ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Online Writing Courses: Commas Part I

Updated on August 30, 2013

Improve writing skills with my online writing classes

This is another installment of my online writing classes. Several people have requested that I write an article about comma usage, so consider me your online writing tutor! Using commas correctly can be confusing, but learning to do so will improve your writing skills.

Why do correct commas improve writing skills? Commas improve writing skills by making sentences clear and easy to understand. A misplaced comma can change the entire meaning of a sentence. For example, look at these examples from two different Holy Bibles:

“This I say to you today, you will be with me in Paradise.”

“This I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

According to the Bible, Christ said these words to the thief on the cross. Even though the exact same words are used in both sentences, the sentences have different meanings because of the placement of the comma. In the first, Christ is telling the thief that he will go to Paradise, but he doesn’t say when the thief will get his reward. In the second sentence, Jesus is telling the thief that both victims will be in Paradise on that very day.

I just use these as an example and am not trying to start a religious debate. I had much rather be an online writing tutor and continue with my online writing courses than to be a minister!

Items in a series

Three or more words, phrases, or clauses that are in a series joined by and, or, or nor need commas:

Sam, Joe, and Mike are in the living room.

She brought rolls, a pie, and a casserole.

I enjoy fishing, going to the beach, and hiking in the woods.

The final comma in a series is considered optional in a few online writing classes, but the majority of experts favor including it.

Coordinating conjunctions

Coordinating conjunctions are for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so. These are easy to remember as “FANBOYS.” When a coordinating conjunction joins two independent clauses, a comma is needed:

I went outside, and I discovered that my car had been stolen.

See? These are two clauses that would make perfect sense on their own. Each part of this compound sentence has a subject and a verb and is a complete thought:

I went outside.

I discovered that my car had been stolen.

If both parts of the sentence joined by FANBOYS aren’t independent, you don’t need a comma:

I went outside and discovered that my car had been stolen.

“Discovered that my car had been stolen” doesn’t have a subject and isn’t an independent clause. Here are some more examples:

I went to the store, and I bought some bread.

I went to the store and bought some bread.

She was sick, but she went to the party.

She was sick but went to the party.

He’s skinny, yet he’s muscular.

He’s skinny yet muscular.


An appositive renames the subject and should be separated with commas:

Mr. Jones, my math teacher, always gives us homework.

My sister, Sara Brown, lives in Florida.

Coordinate adjectives

Many people make mistakes with coordinate adjectives. Coordinate adjectives are adjectives that have equal importance and appear next to each other in a sentence. They should be separated by a comma:

We saw a gnarled, twisted tree at the beach.

On the table was an expensive, exotic figurine.

This is where it gets tricky: If the two modifiers aren’t coordinate adjectives, you don’t use a comma:

The big red barn was in a green field.

You wouldn’t use a comma between big and red. How can you tell if two adjectives aren’t coordinate adjectives? There are two ways to tell. If and can be substituted for the comma, the comma is needed. Also, if the adjectives can be used in reverse order, they’re coordinate adjectives and need a comma to separate them.

We saw a gnarled and twisted tree at the beach.

We saw a twisted and gnarled tree at the beach.

See? This pair of adjectives needs a comma. The following, however, do not:

The big and red barn was in a green field. (incorrect)

The red, big barn was in a green field. (incorrect)

These sentences are awkward. Big and red are not coordinate adjectives here, so there’s no need for a comma.


Comma use with dates can also get confusing. A general rule of thumb is that when two numbers OR two words are used next to each other, a comma is needed:

Thanksgiving is on Thursday, November 25.

I got my first pony on December 25, 1966.

Columbus landed in the New World in October 1492.

You don’t need a comma if different parts of the date are connected by a preposition:

Thanksgiving is always on a Thursday in November.

In American English, a comma is also needed after a complete date:

On October 13, 1492, Columbus landed in the New World.


I hope students found this information helpful and will employ these strategies to improve writing skills. There’s much more to learn about commas, and I plan on providing more online writing classes about commas and punctuation. In the links below, you'll find more of my online writing courses!


Improve writing skills with online writing classes.
Improve writing skills with online writing classes.

This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)