Is there a quick basic comma rule guide available?

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Answered by: Sharon, An Expert in the Mechanics: Importance of Timing Category
The Quick Comma Rule Guide

See if you can quickly list at least five main reasons to use a comma. If you can’t, you’re not alone. There are few mistakes made as often as missing or extraneous commas. Omitting a comma can cause confusion and run-on sentences. Using commas too liberally can result in awkward pauses and the dreaded comma splice. What's a well-meaning writer to do?

Even confident comma users often have difficulty articulating the why, when, and how they use commas. Few directions are as vague as, "use a comma to note a pause in a sentence." So why is this the rule so many of us hold onto? The reason is probably a result of so much confusion surrounding comma rules and usage.

Fear not! There are specific comma rules that are more helpful than, "use a comma when you hear a pause in a sentence." Knowing these specific comma rules will help you to use commas confidently and effectively. This comma rule guide is not an exhaustive guide for every instance and example of comma use; however, these rules will cover the basics, and if used correctly, will keep your comma culpability to a minimum.

Read on! Each rule in this comma rule guide is followed by a practical example of its use.

USE A COMMA TO: separate items in a series.

Example: She shopped for bread, butter, and milk.

USE A COMMA TO: set off non-essential elements in a sentence.

Example: The new school building, added in 1999, provided room for one-hundred new students.

USE A COMMA TO: separate compound sentences (when a conjunction is present).

Example: We searched the web for hours, but we didn't find what we needed.

USE A COMMA TO: separate days from years and years from the rest of the sentence.

Example: My mother was born February 28, 1953, in the height of the baby boom.

USE A COMMA TO: separated quoted material from the rest of the sentence.

Example: "This," he said, "is the real point."

USE A COMMA TO: separate introductory phrases and clauses.

Example: Before he arrived at the store, he realized he forgot his wallet.

USE A COMMA TO: separate cities from states.

Example: We live in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

USE A COMMA TO: separate adjectives you might otherwise use and to separate.

Example: She was an efficient, dependable assistant. (Without the comma-She was an efficient and dependable assistant.)

While there are many more examples we could list, consistently applying the rules of this quick guide will help you take the confusion out of comma use.

Still confused? Here's a game plan.

Check the comma rule guide and examples above. If the rule doesn't make sense at first, use the example to help you understand the rule. Then, be sure that you know to use commas in these situations. The next time you write and are unsure about a comma, compare your sentence to the examples to see if it conforms to one of the rules. Finally, if you can't find a good reason to use a comma, don't do it!

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