Strong and effective writing relies heavily on the use of punctuation marks, which can help writers communicate their message with clarity and impact while controlling the tone and pace of their text. To engage readers and communicate effectively, writers must employ punctuation marks with skill and precision, and among them, commas can be particularly useful for adding pauses, alternatives, and emphasis when used appropriately. In this article, we’ll examine the role of commas in writing and provide guidance on their proper use.

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What is the Comma?

Many writers consider commas as signifiers of gentle pauses that separate ideas or elements within a sentence. The comma has various functions such as distinguishing items in lists, connecting two independent clauses with the words and or but, after transitions or introductory phrases when they begin sentences, and a few others which we will cover in the next segments of this article. Before that, let us look at the following examples of commas in sentences:

  • Generally, we consider this gymnastic form as the basic figure.
  • I think he lived in Seoul, South Korea for a few years in his 30s.
  • Well, we have some beer, soju, vodka, and soda in the cooler.
  • Klent has always been interested in cooking, so he became a chef.
  • If you picked the right year, we all lived in the same building without knowing it.
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Comma Rules

Below is a table detailing the functions of commas and how they’re used in sentences:

For Introductory ExpressionsCommas are necessary after phrases or clauses that serve to introduce the main clauses. This can include transitions, conjunctive adverbs, dependent clauses, and infinitive, prepositional, or participial phrases. For example:

– Once upon a time, there lived a cheerful girl in the woods.
– Three years ago, this place was quite rural.
– Sometime later, Gina got back on her feet.
To Set Off Words or PhrasesThe expression “set off” means to enclose with commas. When we use words, phrases, or clauses in the middle of sentences, we set them off with commas: one at the beginning and one at the end. These set-off expressions are not always significant to the sentences, but they add some extra information that may or may not be meaningful to the overall idea. For example:

Appositive phrases:
Jade, a Kindergarten teacher, bought some flowers at our store.

Parenthetical Expressions:
– The building, old and meandering, is over a hundred years old.

Conjunctive Adverbs:
– Her boss, however, was not impressed.
With a SeriesWhen words, phrases, or clauses are listed in a series, we use commas to isolate them. For example:

– They ate mangoes, avocadoes, and oranges at the farm.
– I watched a movie, went to a museum, and spent some time in a bookstore.
– They called Jerry, Allen, and Jin about the project.
To Separate Independent ClausesIn instances when independent clauses are linked by coordinating conjunctions (typically and, but, and or, but in some cases for, nor, so, and yet), commas are used to separate the clauses. For example:

– I like watching horror films, but my boyfriend likes action movies.
– She was sick, so she didn’t come to work.
– They said they will deliver on time, yet they are already two days late.
With QuotationsCommas are sometimes used to indicate the end of quotations or dialogues before the speaker or action is stated (or the attributive tag). For example:

– “Hey,” she greeted him.
– “I don’t know why this is hard,” Nick muttered. “This used to be easy for me.”
– Come to my office when you have a minute,” the manager said.
With Two or More Coordinate AdjectivesA comma is necessary to split two or more coordinate adjectives modifying one subject. Remember not to put another comma between the final adjective and the noun it modifies. For example:

– The huge, metal door was difficult to lift.
– My grandma was a tall, young, and beautiful woman in her 20s.
– This is a big, delicious sandwich!
To Set Off Specific InformationCommas are used to set off dates, addresses, job or social titles, and geographical names. For example:

– Marcus, lifestyle editor of The Territory, travels a lot for work.
– I was born on September 9, 1993.
– This is Paris, France. Romance is everywhere!
The Oxford CommaCommas are used to distinguish items from each other in lists of three or more items. The final comma that appears before the word “and” is called the Oxford comma or the serial comma. For example: – We need glitter, a glue gun, and some glue sticks.
– I forgot to turn off the generator, went back to do it, and arrived late.
– They have to deliver the tables, set up the garden, and build a makeshift stage. Remember that using the Oxford comma is optional. As it’s a stylistic choice, whatever decision you do with your writing is correct, although you need to be consistent with it. However, some grammar correction software considers the usage of the Oxford comma standard and tags sentences that don’t use it as erroneous.
With Question TagsCommas are used before question tags. For example:

– You’re not made, are you?
– This is the way to Lake Street, right?
– Miss Ray does have a point, doesn’t she?
Table of Rules for Commas
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Examples of Comma

  • Can you buy wet wipes, diapers, and alcohol at the store?
  • Her boyfriend, nevertheless, forgave her and wanted to move on.
  • When Yujin was young, he was quite a menace.
  • To tell you the truth, we weren’t so sure until we saw it.
  • Furthermore, we would like to review the safety measures in the processing plant.
  • She was eager to go to the party, but she can’t help but feel unwanted.
  • Although it rained, the delegation insisted to push through with the event.
  • “Please,” said Hardy. “it doesn’t have to be like this.”
  • Arjun and his family moved to Saket District, New Delhi last month.
  • The tiny, yellow light was bright enough to illuminate the room.

Comma Exercise with Answers

Exercise on Comma

Punctuate the following sentences with commas properly.

1. While mowing the lawn Devan heard Peyton his neighbor yell for help.

2. The issues regarding the new templates are Sara thinks minimal.

3. I was born at 11:58 pm on December 31 1980 and my twin brother was born at 12:05 am on January 1 1981.

4. “I can’t” said Moira. “Gary my therapist said it’s not good for me.”

5. Your garden would look breathtaking with perennials ferns and flowering herbs.


1. While mowing the lawn, Devan heard Peyton, his neighbor, yell for help.

2. The issues regarding the new templates are, Sara thinks, minimal.

3. I was born at 11:58 pm on December 31, 1980, and my twin brother was born at 12:05 am on January 1. 1981.

4. “I can’t,” said Moira. “Gary, my therapist, said it’s not good for me.”

5. Your garden would look breathtaking with perennials, ferns, and flowering herbs.

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Punctuation Marks List

Here is a list of the most commonly used punctuation marks in the English language:

Common Punctuation Marks
Punctuation MarkFunctionExample
Period [.]End simple or neutral sentences and abbreviations.– I’m so sick of watching TV shows with zombies, but this is a breath of fresh air.
– Nikolia is only shy on the first meeting.
– They left town when the mining industry collapsed.
Question mark [?]End interrogative sentences.– Did you see anyone at the cabana?
– “Are you on your way?” Tess asked impatiently.
– Pardon? Please speak up.
Exclamation point [!]End exclamatory sentences or sentences that express strong feelings.– Oh no! I dropped my phone in the water.
– Wow, this is quite a sight!
– “Don’t look!” he said, worried that I might see the surprise.
Semicolon [;] or Comma [,]Connect complete sentences or enumerate items in a list.– I’m pretty sure he won’t mind if we used his computer; I know him and he’s very laid back.
– Do we go with the black, gold, or red dress?
– Gordy can barely breathe from laughing; his son slipped in the icy stairway, and when he went to help, he slipped as well.
quotation marks [” “]Signify quotations.– That’s the “love of her life.”
– “I want to talk about where you were on the night of the accident,” said the police officer.
– “There’s a sale for shoes over at City Mall, and it’s almost like they’re giving them away.”
apostrophe [‘]Show contractions or indicate possessive.– We’ll head over to Tyrone’s after we finish inking the drafts.
– You can’t just drop a clanger like that and bail on me. C’mon, I love salacious gossip.
– Kiri’s fixer-upper of a house is going to need a lot of work.
Table of Common Punctuation Marks
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Advice for ESL Students & English Language Learners

In written language, commas play a significant role in improving the clarity and readability of text. They are particularly helpful in separating elements of text after introductory phrases and transition words, and in distinguishing items in a list. Additionally, commas can be used to indicate pauses, thereby adding emphasis or drama to the writing. It is essential for English language learners to understand the rules of comma usage and apply them correctly in their writing. With dedicated practice and attention to detail, learners can become skilled in using or omitting commas effectively.

Additionally, it is important for learners to properly understand how to use an apostrophe, period and exclamation points.

Common Errors Made by English Learners

To avoid common writing mistakes, it would be advantageous for English learners to acquaint themselves with the extra regulations concerning the use of commas listed in the table below.

Common ErrorsExplanation/Examples
Dependent ClausesRemember that we only use the comma before the coordinating conjunctions “and” and “but” if they are linking two independent clauses. If one of the clauses is a dependent clause, using a comma would be incorrect. For example:

– Ronnie is a great painter but as a writer he is excellent!
– The rules are strict, and absolute.

– Ronnie is a great painter, but as a writer he is excellent!
– The rules are strict and absolute.
Two-item ListsThere’s no need for a comma before the word “and” if there are only two things in a list. For example:

– Singing is my bread, and butter.
– I want to eat ham, and eggs.

Correct: – Singing is my bread and butter.
– I want to eat ham and eggs.
Comma SplicesMany English learners forget that a comma alone isn’t enough to link two independent clauses. For that, a conjunction or a semicolon is needed. Using only a comma is an error called a comma splice. Let’s look at the following sentence:

– I was bored, I watched a movie.

This is a comma splice and is grammatically incorrect. The following versions are the correct ones:

– I was bored, so I watched a movie.
– I was bored; I watched a movie.

Of course, you can always choose to use a period and separate the clauses into two sentences instead.
Table of Common Errors with Commas
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Learning Strategies and Best Practices with the Comma

Learning StrategiesExplanation
Language ListsThe amount of information presented in grammar resources can be significant, with a variety of formats such as tables, charts, and diagrams. To maximize their usefulness, it is important to choose resources that match your learning style and are easily understandable. While these resources are not a substitute for thorough learning, they present grammar concepts, including punctuation, in simplified formats, patterns, and rules. Additionally, they offer practical examples of sentences from real-life scenarios that can help you develop your vocabulary and ability to construct sentences correctly.
Language ExposureAchieving advanced language proficiency in a short period of time cannot be solely accomplished through classroom learning. Therefore, independent learning remains a crucial aspect despite the required dedication and effort. To comprehend the diverse contexts in which English punctuation is used, reading academic papers and creative writing is one of the most effective methods. You can create your own reference material by copying the various uses of punctuation, and apply what you have learned to your writing when you’re ready.
Language ExchangeImproving your writing skills necessitates conversing with peers who possess knowledge of punctuation usage. This method not only allows for receiving first-hand instructions but also enhances speaking and comprehension abilities. Enrolling in a writing class presents an opportunity to cultivate friendships with classmates and coordinate study sessions where each member can share their writing and complete practice exercises together.
Table of Learning Strategies for Commas
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Comma Frequently Asked Questions

Commas are indicators of pauses that separate ideas or elements within a sentence. They have multiple functions, a few of which are separating items in a list, linking independent clauses with coordinating conjunctions, and following transitions or introductory phrases.

When comparing two things or ideas, the word “than” is used to depict the comparison. A comma should never come before or after the word.

We use commas when we directly talk to someone using their names. It doesn’t matter if the name comes at the beginning or at the end of sentences. If we use the name first, we write a comma after the name. If we use the name last, we write the comma before the name. For example:

– “Jean, can you come here for a second?”
– “Whatever do you mean, Bob?

In American English, commas should always be inside quotation marks according to the standard convention. This applies to quotes from speeches or written works and titles of movies, books, plays, and other similar items that are enclosed in a quotation. For example, “His book, All Things Blue, sold well in his country.

The first one is simply a pluralization of the word comma, which means the speaker is talking about commas in general or multiple commas. Comma’s would be the possessive form, which would only make sense if we are talking about the quality or function of commas. For example, “The comma’s usage is one of the most common in the English language.”

There seemed to have been a surge in the popularity of the Oxford comma, with grammar snobs lifting their noses at people who don’t use it, claiming a lack of sophistication. There might be different opinions about it, but a standard rule regarding the usage of Oxford commas does not exist. It is, in fact, a choice in writing style. That being said, there are some cases where an Oxford or serial comma is necessary to provide clarity.

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