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How to Use Commas in Text: Quick Learning Guide for Students

The meaning of commas in a sentence

Commas are considered to be a great punctuation tool for a number of reasons. We use commas on a daily basis to organize the structure of the text and separate its parts. With the presence of this clever element, the content can be divided into readable sections. Although you may find the common rules of using commas in every grammar book, you also need context to insert them correctly.

Some commas are introduced for individual purposes. In addition to splitting up sentence sections, this punctuation device was made to clarify the meaning of the text. If you want a magical word flow to be ever-present in your writing, take a look at the comma rules to refresh your memory. Since commas are used regularly, there is a chance you might forget the most obvious mistakes that occur when putting them in a text. We are here to remind you about the rules and regulations of proper comma use.

When you need to use commas

  • To introduce a sentence: Additionally, the meeting was postponed.
  • To separate a clause: Annie, who was not capable of solving her problems, decided to shut off her emotions completely.
  • To join independent clauses: Chips are considered fast food, so they won't cost a fortune.

When you don’t need to use commas

  • Between independent clauses: Sales rocketed; the company is flourishing.
  • Between compound subjects: A sandwich toast and a mug of coffee make for a great start of the day.
  • Between compound predicates: We delegated the assignments and managed the emails.

How to introduce the sentence with commas

If the sentence starts with a transition word, you need to follow it with a comma. Transition words are used to link sentences together.

  • In addition we noticed the sudden change in the plane’s trajectory.
  • ✔️ In addition, we noticed the sudden change in the plane’s trajectory.

There are introductory phrases that enhance the meaning of the main clause. In this case, we should use a comma to indicate the main part of the sentence.

  • According to the recently conducted research many people are addicted to modern technology.
  • ✔️ According to the recently conducted research, many people are addicted to modern technology.

How to use commas in dependent and independent clauses

By formal definition, a dependent clause cannot be used to create a sentence. It is occasionally referred to as the subordinate clause. An independent clause, on the contrary, can form simple sentences using a subject and a verb. The choice to put commas between clauses depends on the relation of clauses to one another and is determined by common grammar rules.

If the dependent clause is found at the beginning of the sentence, it should be followed by a comma:

✔️ Since the boss officially permitted his office to leave early on Fridays, the employee presence has dropped dramatically.

If the dependent clause is found after the independent clause, the presence of a comma is not compulsory:

✔️ The employee presence has dropped dramatically since the boss officially permitted his office to leave early on Fridays.

How to use commas in compound sentences

A compound sentence is a sentence that is comprised of at least two independent clauses. Clauses in a sentence are related and joined by a coordinating conjunction (for, but, yet, so) or a semicolon.

If the coordinating conjunction is used to connect two independent clauses, a comma is always put before the conjunction.

  • ✔️ Many people saw unusual activity in the park at night, but none of them reported trouble.
  • ✔️ The call was made to the police station, so the officers had to investigate the scene.

Based on the examples, provided above, it is safe to conclude that both parts of the sentence could stand as complete sentences. In this case, a comma is needed.

How to deal with the comma splice

In case two independent clauses are joined with a comma with the conjunction absent, a comma splice is created. Run-on sentences are also referred to as fused, because they represent two complete sentences with no punctuation. Despite the conviction that a comma splice in a sentence is not an error, two independent clauses cannot be connected with a comma alone.

Here are some examples of a comma splice:

  • Object 1 was examined, it gave some clues to unraveling the mystery.
  • He didn’t deliver the goods on time, the traffic was too intense.
  • They followed the path together, she felt instant realization.

In the sentences above, each part of the sentence represents an independent clause. Thus, these parts can act as complete sentences. So, how does one avoid a comma splice? There are several options:

  • Divide the two clauses into sentences
  • Use a colon or a semicolon in a sentence
  • Use an appropriate conjunction

Depending on the chosen method, different results can be observed. The most prominent examples are shown in the table below.

Comma splice in a sentence
Object 1 was examined, it gave some clues to unraveling the mystery. He didn’t deliver the goods on time, the traffic was too intense. They followed the path together, she felt instant realization.
✔️ Divided into two sentences
Object 1 was examined. It gave some clues to unraveling the mystery. He didn’t deliver the goods on time. The traffic was too intense. They followed the path together. She felt instant realization.
✔️ Connected with punctuation
Object 1 was examined: it gave some clues to unraveling the mystery. He didn’t deliver the goods on time – the traffic was too intense. They followed the path together; she felt instant realization.
✔️ Connected with a conjunction
Object 1 was examined as it gave some clues to unraveling the mystery. He didn’t deliver the goods on time because the traffic was too intense. They followed the path together, and she felt instant realization.

Commas and compound subjects

If two subjects are connected to one verb, you don’t have to separate them with a comma.

Compound subject

  • Two bottles of champagne, and two glasses were set on the table.
  • ✔️ Two bottles of champagne and two glasses were set on the table.

Note that both “two bottles of champagne” and “two glasses” are subjects in the sentence, so no comma is required.

Compound object

  • The head of the table handed a pen, and a notebook to each of his guests.
  • ✔️ The head of the table handed a pen and a notebook to each of his guests.

Note that both “a pen” and “a notebook” are objects of the verb “handed,” so no comma is required.

Commas and compound predicates

The predicate in a sentence contains the verb. A compound predicate is the presence of two verbs in one sentence. These verbs are related to the same subjects. As a general rule, comma is not needed between the verbs.

  • These foreign people have tried to hide, and escape persecution.
  • ✔️ These foreign people have tried to hide and escape persecution.

The same rule applies when the predicate is comprised of modifiers that provide the audience with background information. These can be words and phrases that add meaning to the context:

  • A pale man walked into the room, and started staring at the newcomers.
  • ✔️ A pale man walked into the room and started staring at the newcomers.

In the example above, the man is engaged in two activities, walking and staring. Since they are both related to the subject (man), there is no need to put a comma between them.

On some occasions, a comma is necessary for additional emphasis.

  • He agreed to come to the party, and make friends with the visiting students.
  • ✔️ He agreed to come to the party and make friends with the visiting students.
  • ✔️ He agreed to come to the party, but refused to make friends with the visiting students.

In the third example, a comma is used to emphasize the actions of a man. It accentuates the importance of his refusal, but again, is not compulsory.

Serial commas

When making a list, commas are needed for sentence clarity. The last item on the list is separated with the help of conjunction. A comma that is put before the conjunction is known as the serial comma. However, the use of the serial comma in a list is optional.

🟢 With a comma 🟡 Without a comma
The trolley contained pecan nuts, peanuts, and hazelnuts. The trolley contained pecan nuts, peanuts and hazelnuts.
Persian cats, Maine Coon cats, and Siamese cats have intuitive notions about the world around them. Persian cats, Maine Coon cats and Siamese cats have intuitive notions about the world around them.
  • There are several faculties you need to pay attention to: Arts, Humanities and Business and Administration.
  • ✔️ There are several faculties you need to pay attention to: Arts, Humanities, and Business and Administration.

In this case, the use of a comma before the final discipline is required. It defines the discipline as a single category and helps avoid confusion.

To achieve clarity when listing several items, it is necessary to put a comma to separate individual items.

  • They knew everyone who lived in the house – two cats, Linda and Clarence.
  • ✔️ They knew everyone who lived in the house – two cats, Linda, and Clarence.

In the sentence above, a serial comma between the items is necessary. Without a comma, it might be interpreted as if two cats, named Linda and Clarence, live in the house.

Quick rules of commas

Comma rules infographic

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