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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.

Appositives

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.

Dates

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.

Summary

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.

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    • profile image

      David Bowman 6 years ago

      Regarding appositives:

      You're dead on with commas to separate appositives from the rest of the sentence with commas. As we learned in Zen Comma: Separate non-restrictive appositives with commas.

      However, an appositive isn't limited to renaming the subject. For example, consider this sentence:

      "I bought a toy for my dog, Rex."

      In this sample, "Rex" is in apposition to "my dog," even though "Rex" isn't the subject.

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      You're welcome, Jen!

    • profile image

      jenp123 6 years ago

      Great, simple way to teach commas! Thanks for the hub!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      Genius, I agree, and I find it unsettling.

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      Ray, thanks for reading and commenting!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      Gets, glad you stopped by!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      Ms Re, I've had homeschoolers email me and say they're using several of my online writing classes!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      Many thanks, Paul!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      Flo, glad you like my online writing courses!

    • ExecResumeGenius profile image

      ExecResumeGenius 6 years ago from Sacramento, CA

      Great Hub. Today's generation doesn't pay attention to proper grammar or writing and communication styles. I especially appreciate all the examples.

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      Good to see you, Oceans!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      Rebelchik, best of luck with your novel!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      Same here, Sam! Thanks for visiting!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks a bunch, Toronto!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      Nice to meet you, Bailee!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      I'll always be a teacher at heart, tim-tim!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      Aw, thanks, Daisy! So glad you like my online writing courses!

    • Raydfernandez profile image

      Raydfernandez 6 years ago

      this is really great.... nice work!!!

    • Gets profile image

      Gets 6 years ago

      I don't always digest things as fast as I used to. I'm sure I will be coming back more than once to see if I did it right. This is a very informative hub. Thank you.

    • Ms Re profile image

      Ms Re 6 years ago from Memphis, TN

      Wow! You are doing a great thing here. Keep it going. I think this may be useful for my homeschoolers. Thanks, Habee!

    • paul pruel profile image

      Paul Odien Pruel 6 years ago from Philippines and Saudi Arabia

      Interesting one! Nice sharing. Thanks. Merry Christmas.

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      Bob, I'm honored to have you here!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      Kaze, good - glad I could be of help!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      Create, he/she must have been a good teacher!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      Hubwriter, thanks mucho!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      Debbie, you are quite welcome!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      Dgicre, you are TOO kind!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      Sylvia, you're in good company!

    • FloBe profile image

      FloBe 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Your hubs on writing are a very useful resource. Thanks for sharing this information with us in such a succinct way.

    • oceansnsunsets profile image

      Paula 6 years ago from The Midwest, USA

      Thanks for the refresher, Habee! Helpful hub for sure.

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      That's a good strategy, Mary!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      Too true, Yule!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      lol, 2pats! You know the real saying is "When in doubt, leave it out," right?

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      You're very welcome, Penny!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks a bunch, Turtledog!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      Steve, thanks for reading and commenting!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      Lol, trimar! That would be awesome!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      I'm really glad, Katrina!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      Kirsten, I appreciate your kind comment!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      Xishan, that's great!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      Mikey, it's great to have you as a guest!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      Grace, I really wrote my online writing courses with students in mind!

    • Rebelchick1 profile image

      Tina Di Troia 6 years ago

      OMG! You're so awesome for doing this. I really need all the help I can get. I keep getting stuck while working on my novel. Writing dialog and getting in the correct form doesn't seem like such a chore until you actually have to do it. I marvel at where all my grammar skills and proper punctuation went off to and I end up scraping chapter after chapter because I feel. I'm not writing it properly. Thanks so much for posting.

    • CavemanSam profile image

      CavemanSam 6 years ago

      Great refresher. I'm reentering the copyediting workforce after a couple years absence so this was rather helpful. I used the AP stylebook in the past and I remember not using the last comma in a series... the one that comes right before "and." So whenever I see it it gets on my nerves. :)

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      Baileestar101 6 years ago from St. Joseph, Michigan

      I love how you wrote about comments and tied that in with God and Christ. I am a new hubber so, this uis a great motivation for me!

    • tim-tim profile image

      Priscilla Chan 6 years ago from Normal, Illinois

      I am not surprised to see this from a teacher:) Great hub, Habee!

    • profile image

      daisy7rox 6 years ago

      I want to know more about kid stories and what will be best to use in kid chapter books. But you are could I have read 2 of your classes and I like them, your good and I bet every one would agree.

    • Bob Ewing profile image

      Bob Ewing 6 years ago from New Brunswick

      Thanks, I am fond of commas, and tend to misplace them.

    • kazemaru2 profile image

      kazemaru2 6 years ago from usa

      Now my grammar is slightly better thanks for the insight.

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      CreateHubpages 6 years ago

      Now I miss my English teacher in HS :)

    • profile image

      hubpageswriter 6 years ago

      Awesome hub.

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      DebbieEdwards 6 years ago

      This is awesome! So many of us get stuck on that one little thing that really is a big thing. Thanks for the hub :=)

    • dgicre profile image

      dgicre 6 years ago from USA

      You are amazing and awesome, a true master of the comma. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us. Kind regards!

    • Sylvia Leong profile image

      Sylvia Leong 6 years ago from North Vancouver (Canada)

      Awesome Hub! I've always had difficulty with commas. Thank you!

    • Sylvia Leong profile image

      Sylvia Leong 6 years ago from North Vancouver (Canada)

      Awesome Hub! I've always had difficulty with commas. Thank you!

    • profile image

      Mary 6 years ago

      I really enjoyed your class. I still have trouble with punctuation. I have started watching movies with the subtitles on so I can watch how to place them. Your site has made it even more clear. Thanks.

    • profile image

      Yuleluv 6 years ago

      Punctuation usage in correct manner is a must for smart writing skills or literal communication.

    • 2patricias profile image

      2patricias 6 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

      I love commas. My writing motto is 'when in doubt, throw in a comma.' Therefore, this hub is just what I need. Now all I've got to do is remember it.

    • pennyofheaven profile image

      pennyofheaven 6 years ago from New Zealand

      I enjoyed this lesson! Thank you!

    • TurtleDog profile image

      TurtleDog 6 years ago

      The power of the comma! Very interesting how different comma placement changes the whole sentence. No doubt that I'm ruining the comma on my hubs. Thanks for the rules of comma use. Should help a lot. I voted UP! useful

    • profile image

      stevemullins 6 years ago

      really like this - think teachers will like it and the foreign language students looking for tips etc...

    • trimar7 profile image

      trimar7 6 years ago from New York

      Teachers everywhere will love you - most especially foreign language teachers.

    • katrinasui profile image

      katrinasui 6 years ago

      Great Hub, Very well written. I learned a lot from your hub.

    • Kirsten Fisher profile image

      Kirsten Fisher 6 years ago

      Thank you. Well written, and an important lesson.

    • Xishan Ansari profile image

      Xishan Ansari 6 years ago from Pakistan

      thanks definitely it will increase writing skills

    • Mikeydoes profile image

      Mikeydoes 7 years ago from Fl,IL,IND

      Very useful for me, I'd have to say my biggest problem is commas. I've finally started to figure them out!

      This is definetely a great hub, I will have to read it several times to really get it down.

      Thank you!

    • graceomalley profile image

      graceomalley 7 years ago

      Great hub, very clear. 'm going to share this with my high school son.

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Maria, you are so sweet!

      Hhelen, thanks for your support!

    • hhelen profile image

      hhelen 7 years ago

      What a great hub, girl! Keep it up.

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      Maria Cecilia 7 years ago from Philippines

      oh my Habee I am not surprise you are one of the latest Hubpages achiever, this is just great and I will definitely learn from it..

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      So true, Susan. Thanks!

      pchung, glad you liked my writing skills class!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Moby, you have a way with words!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Reallygood, I'll try to work that in for you!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Maybe I will, sreekumar!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks, Optic!

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      pchung74 7 years ago

      Thanks, habee. Clear and concise.

    • Susan Starts Now profile image

      Susan Starts Now 7 years ago from California

      Thank you for the useful advice. Your style was clear and concise. It always seems to be easier to remember things when they are explained clearly.

    • MobyWho profile image

      MobyWho 7 years ago from Burlington VT

      Great hub! Simply pure, and purely simple. Just what the writing doctor ordered. Did I really need a comma there? It takes away the simplicity of it.

    • reallygoodpoetry profile image

      reallygoodpoetry 7 years ago

      can u write an article about when 2 captialize something

    • profile image

      sreekumar sukumaran 7 years ago

      You can as well write about usage of articles" the, a, an " and explain the difference in meaning when used alternatively. For example, there is a fly in a tea-cup, there is fly in the tea cup, there is the fly in a tea cup.... so on and so forth. Best wishes.

    • OpticIllusions profile image

      OpticIllusions 7 years ago from United States

      What a useful hub, Habee!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Glad youliked it, Matherese!

    • matherese profile image

      matherese 7 years ago

      I find your hub very good i really like it

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks, Perl!

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      Purple Perl 7 years ago from Bangalore,India

      habee, this hub is very well put and useful for all. Voted you up and useful!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      You're welcome, Buttar!

      KL, I appreciate you, too!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      FF, my old pal, it's great to see you!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Kristine, thank you for reading!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Muriuh, glad you found my online writing classes helpful!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Suejanet, I need that one, too! lol

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Wow, Go Daddy! You made my day!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Thank you, Kookoo!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Glad you stopped by, HH!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      You're very welcome, CJ!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Pulse, I appreciate that!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      3 Finger, glad it was a reminder for you!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Many thanks, De Greek!

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      KLeichester 7 years ago

      A very helpful hub. Thanks for taking time and posting this.

    • buttar_d profile image

      buttar_d 7 years ago from Chandigarh

      thanks for the hub.

    • fastfreta profile image

      Alfreta Sailor 7 years ago from Southern California

      Now this is one of those hubs for bookmarking for later use. I intend to read all of these hubs, because I'm sure I need them. Thanks for the lesson.