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How To Use Commas - Comma Rules

Updated on April 1, 2015

Commas, you either love them or hate them! If you know how to use them, they can be a pleasure to work with. If, however, you have no clue, they can be pesky little things that you wished didn't exist. Commas can be difficult for some because there are some rules that govern their usage. These rules are pretty simple and all it takes is a bit of patience in understanding what they are and how they work. People often come to the erroneous conclusion that commas aren't really that important in the wider scheme of things. They do look pretty insignificant, don't they? However, commas play a crucial role in guiding the reader. Improper use of commas can confuse the reader. It is therefore important that you know the various comma rules. In this article, I would touch upon some comma rules.

Source

Some Comma Rules With Explanations & Examples:

FANBOYS - When I think about commas, this mnemonic is the first to crop up. As you can see, this mnemonic is easy to remember. It stands for F - for; A - and; N - not; B - but; O - or; Y - yet; and S - so. These are of course what are referred to as coordinating conjunctions.

These coordinating conjunctions can join words, phrases or clauses. We should be interested in independent clauses that are separated by any of these conjunctions. Before we proceed further, let us discuss what independent clauses are? Well, an independent clause basically has a subject and verb and therefore can stand on its own (i.e. independent). In other words, it conveys a complete thought on its own. Let us study the following example.

Example: She wanted to buy a new car, but she did not have enough money.

In the above example, there are two independent clauses "She wanted to buy a new car" and "She did not have enough money" - both separated by the coordinating conjunction "but." Each clause in the above example expresses a complete thought and hence you can use a comma before the coordinating conjunction "but."

HINT: If you remove the coordinating conjunction "but" in the above example and put a period instead, you get two complete independent clauses, which both convey complete thoughts, i.e.

a) She wanted to buy a new car.

b) She did not have enough money.

Hence you can use a coordinating conjunction to join both of these.

Now, suppose, the second clause had the subject missing, i.e. "she." The sentence would now read as - She wanted to buy a new car but did not have enough money.

In this case, the second clause is not an independent clause but a dependent one, i.e. it depends on the first clause to derive complete meaning. Hence, in this instance, you cannot use a comma.

So, in conclusion, use commas to separate independent clauses when they are joined by any of the FANBOYS coordinating conjunctions.

The Introductory Comma:

Words such as "yes," "well," and "however," are introductory words. A few examples of these would be:

a) Well, I finally decided to write this hub.

b) However, he was quite pleased with the results.

c) Yes, that would be an accurate description of the picture.

Use commas to separate a city from the state:

Example 1: Jenna lives in Bakersfield, California.

Example 2: Jenna lived in Fresno, California, for 12 years.

Example 3: Jenna lived in Fresno, CA for 12 years.

Use commas to set off non-essential clauses, phrases or words that interrupt the flow:

Example 1: Dogs, on the other hand, are obedient and loyal pets.

In the above example, "on the other hand," is not essential to the meaning of the sentence. Hence, you would set it off with commas. You would note that if you leave out "on the other hand" in the above example, the sentence still makes complete sense. Also, you'd note that the non-essential part interrupts the flow of the sentence. Another example would be:

Example 2: This Wednesday, which also happens to be my birthday, is the only day I am free until next Thursday.

In the above example, "which also happens to be my birthday" is not essential to the meaning of the sentence and should be set off with commas. If you read the sentence without the set-off part, it makes perfect and complete sense.

Use commas to separate a series of three or more words, clauses, phrases, letters or figures.

Example 1: I like apples, grapes, oranges and peaches.

Example 2: On Sunday, I played basketball, played soccer, saw a movie and went out for dinner.

Note: You may have noticed that I have dropped the last series comma, i.e. before the "and" in both examples. I've done so because some style manuals prefer that the last comma in a series be dropped - either preceding 'and' or 'or.' However, personally, I don't think this is a big deal.

Use commas to separate a series of adjectives (i.e. words that describe a noun)

Example 1: He is an intelligent, handsome man.

In the example above, "intelligent" and "handsome" are adjectives.

Exception to the rule:

If an adjective is modifying another adjective, you cannot use a comma between them. Now, this may be difficult to figure out for some, but you can remember this easily this way. Just remove the comma between the adjectives and read the sentence with the word "and" instead. Secondly, reverse the order of the adjectives and read the sentence. If after doing both, the sentence make sense, you can use commas to separate them. If it doesn't make sense, do not use commas to separate them.

The above example with the word "and" added instead of the comma.

He is an intelligent and handsome man. (makes sense)

The above example with the adjectives reversed.

He is a handsome and intelligent man. (makes sense)

Example 2: He wore a bright red shirt.

If we put "and" between the two adjectives here, the sentence reads:

He wore a bright and red shirt. (doesn't make sense - 'bright red' is the color, not 'bright' and 'red.'

If we reverse the order of the adjectives, the sentence reads:

He wore a red and bright shirt. (again doesn't make sense - changes meaning)

Use commas to separate contrasting parts of a sentence:

Example: This is my car, not yours.

Use a comma if a sentence starts with a weak clause followed by a strong clause. Do not use a comma if a sentence starts with a strong clause followed by a weak clause.

If you have any questions about this hub, let me know.

Let me know if you have any questions about this hub.

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Well, that's about all for now. I haven't been able to cover all the comma rules. However, I believe I have covered a significant number of them!!

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    • Rhonda_M profile image

      Rhonda Malomet 4 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Good points. These are standard fare in writing,yet so many people neglect them.

    • htodd profile image

      htodd 5 years ago from United States

      That is interesting post ..Thanks a lot

    • Shil1978 profile image
      Author

      Shil1978 5 years ago

      Thank you, Warleeyou, for stopping by and commenting. Glad you found this write-up helpful!!

    • profile image

      Warleeyou 5 years ago

      Bravo I have been looking for this type of explanation for so long. Thanks and God will be of assistance to you.

    • Shil1978 profile image
      Author

      Shil1978 5 years ago

      Thank you, GG, for stopping by and commenting. Glad you found it useful :)

    • grammarguide profile image

      grammarguide 5 years ago from Bangkok, Thailand

      This is exactly the kind of hubs i like, and this is an awesome write-up on commas here, and useful too. Thank you Shil!

    • leni sands profile image

      Leni Sands 5 years ago from UK

      Another usefully bookmarked hub.

    • baygirl33 profile image

      victoria 5 years ago from Hamilton On.

      Thank you for sharing.I can always use lots of grammar hints.I will read your other hubs on this subject.

      voted you up and useful.

    • Cici2hip4u profile image

      Cici2hip4u 6 years ago from United States of America

      Thank you, I was trying to edit my comment on my phone, but it turned out to be a mishap.

    • Shil1978 profile image
      Author

      Shil1978 6 years ago

      Thank you, Cici, for stopping by and commenting. I ain't no teacher, but I love writing and the English language, that's all :)

    • Cici2hip4u profile image

      Cici2hip4u 6 years ago from United States of America

      Thank you, Sil1978, I think we all need a Language Arts review falling in the grammar and punctuation. It drives me insane when I see people using the wrong homophones and misspelling words all the time! Are you a Language Arts teacher¿ Well, great article!!

    • Shil1978 profile image
      Author

      Shil1978 6 years ago

      Thank you, Chancellor, for stopping by and commenting. Glad you liked this hub :)

    • profile image

      chancellor44 6 years ago

      Great Hub. Enjoyed. Thumps Up.

    • Shil1978 profile image
      Author

      Shil1978 6 years ago

      Thank you, shygirl2, for stopping by and commenting. Glad you found it useful enough to consider bookmarking :)

    • profile image

      shygirl2 6 years ago

      Hey, I think maybe this one was written for me? :) I tend to over use the comma. Thanks, I think I need to bookmark this one! ;)

    • Shil1978 profile image
      Author

      Shil1978 6 years ago

      Dearest Al,

      So glad to have you drop by. Hope things are fine on the personal front? Wish you all the best with that - more power to you!!

      Glad you found this hub useful and interesting. Was my pleasure to write this hub. Thanks again for your encouraging comments and the good stuff, Al.

      Warmest regards and best wishes!!

    • Mystique1957 profile image

      Mystique1957 6 years ago from Caracas-Venezuela

      My dearest Shil...

      This is indeed a useful and interesting hub! I found it quite informative, precise and very easy to follow! Thank you for sharing this knowledge here. Rated up and useful!

      Warmest hugs and infinite heavenly blessings,

      Al

    • Shil1978 profile image
      Author

      Shil1978 7 years ago

      SGE - thank you for stopping by and commenting. If this hub helps educate, it would have served its purpose! Thanks for your appreciation!!

    • SwiftGlassEater profile image

      SwiftGlassEater 7 years ago

      I think plenty of young fools out there could use a lesson in their native tongue as it is. Good to see a brave soul attempting to educate the ignorant, even on such a small scale.

    • Shil1978 profile image
      Author

      Shil1978 7 years ago

      Kim - thank you for stopping by and commenting. Yes, commas can be quite difficult! However, if you know what the rules are, they can be quite easy. Glad you found this hub useful!! Thanks again for visiting :)

      Elayne - Yes, one needs to achieve a balance. You shouldn't be putting too many commas or too less. Commas should be put to guide the reader, not confuse the reader! Thank you for stopping by and commenting!!

    • elayne001 profile image

      Elayne 7 years ago from Rocky Mountains

      Thanks - I needed that. Sometimes, I get carried away, and then at other times, I don't use enough. You gave some good rules to go by.

    • kaltopsyd profile image

      kaltopsyd 7 years ago from Trinidad originally, but now in the USA

      Thanks for another useful bookmark-worthy Hub, Shil! Commas get on my nerves. That's all I have to say. :)

    • Shil1978 profile image
      Author

      Shil1978 7 years ago

      Dave - thank you for stopping by and commenting. You are most welcome :)

    • Dave Mathews profile image

      Dave Mathews 7 years ago from NORTH YORK,ONTARIO,CANADA

      WOW! A LESSON FINALLY, IN PUCTUATION AND GRAMMAR; IT'S ABOUT TIME, SOME OF US LEARNED HOW TO USE PROPER PUNCTUATION. THANK YOU!

      BROTHER DAVE.

    • Shil1978 profile image
      Author

      Shil1978 7 years ago

      Oishi - thank you for stopping by and commenting. Hopefully, I'd be able to write a followup hub on the usage of semicolons and colons. Oishi, pauses aren't a good indication of where to put a comma, as where one takes a pause can be very subjective depending on the person!! Thanks again for visiting!!

      Merlin - well, if they really would thank me for this hub, I'd be mighty pleased at having written this. After all, a hub like this is written in the hopes that it would help some!! Never heard of that quote Merlin, but couldn't agree more :)

      Petra - so glad to have you come by this hub. Good on you Petra. Am sure you humbled the supposed "editor." :) Thanks for stopping by and commenting!!

    • Petra Vlah profile image

      Petra Vlah 7 years ago from Los Angeles

      Thank you for posting this great hub that conforms once and for all the rules I have always followed.

      I had to fight with an editor (who does not know half of the rules you just mentioned) and his explanation was "that's the way we use commas in English" to which I say, "go back to 4th grade, Sir"

    • Merlin Fraser profile image

      Merlin Fraser 7 years ago from Cotswold Hills

      I think my proof-readers and editors will thank you for posting this Hub.

      Remember the quotation, "Comas are like weeds pretty to look at but seldom in the right place."

    • oishi profile image

      oishi 7 years ago

      Thanks for posting. There is a lot of confusion about the use of most short punctuation marks. Kindly write a follow-up on the comparative use of short punctuation marks like comma, semi-colon , colon etc. Generally we differentiate by the duration of the pause but there may be other differences of usage also.

    • Shil1978 profile image
      Author

      Shil1978 7 years ago

      Thank you miss_jkim for stopping by and commenting. Glad you liked this hub. Thanks again for visiting :)

    • miss_jkim profile image

      miss_jkim 7 years ago

      This was great. It never hurts to review punctuation rules. After a while those pesky little commas get all mixed up and I needed a review to sort them out.