5 Necessary Comma Uses
Commas and apostrophe misuse in rampant in the world. I’ve heard everything from “stick one in when you need to take a breath” to avoid them at the end of lists. I submit to you that if the only reason you put a comma in your sentence is when you want your reader to take a breath, your sentence is too long. If you don’t use one between the last two disparate actions or objects in a list, you end up with the classic Eats Shoots & Leaves - both the English and American versions.
Commas are needed to avoid confusion. They are needed to circumvent run-ons which can result in multiple meanings. They are necessary to prevent dangling and misplaced modifiers. Besides office-type little usages, there are five particular places to use commas in American English. (Read Eats Shoots &Leaves for Queen’s English usages.)
Use a comma after an introductory word/interjection/direct address of a person, or phrase. Be consistent.
Oh, what a beautiful morning!
Why, whatever could you mean?
Beatrice, please pass the potatoes.
Mother, may I?
When encountering a UFO, one must attempt a peaceful greeting before shooting.
If you bring me eggs, I will make omelets for breakfast.
No, ma’am. (This usage with just the two words is becoming more rare…omitting a comma is acceptable as long as it’s consistent. But it’s awkward when you have to use one in a longer introductory phrase.)
Use a comma with dialog tags THAT define a manner of speech NOT an action.
“Please pass the potatoes,” Beatrice said/whispered/yodeled. (NOT smiled, laughed, frowned)
She said, “If you bring me eggs, I will make omelets.”
“Yes, sir,” Mother said.
Use a comma to separate INDEPENDENT clauses. I’m not always sure how this happened…but think of it this way: If you can separate a sentence in to two sentences that can stand alone (not counting a conjunction or joining word) use a comma. If one part of the sentences is a fragment (not a complete sentence), then do not use a comma.
We gathered eggs, and then we made omelets.
The new house is finished, and the garage is large enough to hold our two vehicles.
Hold on to your dreams, yet take care of practical matters.
Beatrice asked Mom to make her wedding dress and scheduled fittings.
Use a comma to surround a parenthetical phrase or word. Think of it this way: If you include a phrase that adds to or defines something that you could put in parentheses, use commas on BOTH sides of where you would use parentheses. The parenthetical phrase is something that, if removed, doesn’t necessarily change the meaning of the sentence, or adds to the main idea, or is an interruption of the main thought. NOTE: The use of commas surrounding appositives—words that rename the preceding noun—are not always absolutely necessary unless there is potential confusion or multiple objects.
Tell Phyllis she may bring her cat and kittens, along with her poodle Toby, on the trip.
My aunt and uncle, John and Barbara, were invited to the wedding.
My sister Beatrice is getting married.
His son John will soon be five years old.
Toby and Fifi, our pets, will be lonely without us.
In the future, however, we won’t need to carry money.
Use commas to separate items in a list or actions or a series. Use a comma between ALL of the items, including the last two items if they are separate items/actions/nouns, etc. Likewise, use a comma between adjectives that can be reversed.
Beatrice set the table with the good china, soup bowls, cloth napkins, and silverware.
Mother called Jimmy, Bobby, and Susan to lunch.
Jennifer ordered eggs benedict with her toast and jam.
Pack a sweater and jeans along with your toothbrush, camera, and suntan lotion.
It’s going to be a hot, windy day.
My aunt’s new house is a two-story, red brick mansion.
Use commas to separate numbers over a thousand (no space)—EXCEPT in page numbers or calendar years:
There were 1,114 in attendance.
Please turn to page 1114 in your textbooks.
In the year 2525, people will no longer need money to trade.
Your tax bill comes to $3,425.
Use commas to separate dates, addresses, and cities and countries or states or other municipalities (space):
My cousin was born on July 23, 1977.
We visited Winnipeg, Canada in October of 2005.
I celebrated my work anniversary on February 17, 1988.
We live at 245 Sunnybrook Lane, Vanay, Oceana.
Beatrice’s new address is 711 First Street, Sinclair, Virginia 00555. (no comma before zip code)
Madison, Wisconsin is a beautiful capital city.
Use commas in opening and closing letters/communication:
Please accept this letter of intent…
Finally, this article should be required reading for everyone. Please read it. Please.