The lowly and poor comma is misused and abused to the maximum by most people. While some people overuse it, others place it haphazardly wherever they want. Yet others do not take the pain of using it at all. A comma, in general, is used for separating things in most contexts and languages. Little do most of them know that an insertion of a comma in a sentence can change the entire meaning of the same sentence! You can see for yourself the difference in these sentences, “When lighting struck the five cats, all fled the room” and “When lightning struck, the five cats all fled the room”. In order to avoid such silly and embarrassing situations, it is best to follow some rules pertaining to the use of the comma. These rules would assist you in inserting commas only at justified places. Check out the rules listed below.
Rules For Using Commas
Commas are mostly used to separate words and a series of groups of words. Consider this sentence, “My $10 million estate is to be split amongst my husband, daughter, son, and nephew”. By omitting the comma after son would simply indicate that the son and nephew would be sharing one-third of the estate.
A comma is used to separate two adjectives, where the word ‘and’ can be inserted to divide the two. Consider these two sentences, “He is a strong, healthy man” and “We stayed at an expensive summer resort”. Here, you can conveniently use the word ‘and’ between strong and healthy, but it would be incorrect to say ‘expensive and summer’. Hence, no comma is used in the second sentence.
The name or title of a person directly being addressed should be surrounded by commas. Also, a title should be capitalized when directly addressing someone. For instance, “Will you, Aisha, do this assignment for me?” and “Yes, Doctor, I will”.
A comma should be inserted to separate the day of the month from the year. However, if any part of the date is missing, leave out the commas. Examples: “Kathleen met her husband on December 5, 2003, in Mill Valley, California” and “They met in December 2003 in Mill Valley”.
Cities are separated from states and states are separated from the rest of the document through commas. However, if you are using the two-letter capitalized form of any state, leave the comma. Examples: “I lived in San Francisco, California, for 20 years” and “I lived in San Francisco, CA for 20 years”.
Expressions that interrupt the flow of the sentence should be encapsulated in commas. For example, “I am, as you have probably noticed, very nervous about this”.
Whenever a sentence starts with a weak clause, it should always be followed by a comma. However, if a strong clause begins the sentence, do not use a comma. Examples: “If you are not sure about this, let me know now.” and “Let me know now if you are not sure about this”.
Two strong clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction - and, or, but, for and nor, should be separated by a comma. However, if the sentence is short, the comma can be given a miss. Consider these examples: “I have painted the entire house, but he is still working on sanding the doors.” and “I paint and he writes”.
While introducing or interrupting direct quotations shorter than three lines, separate them by using commas. Examples: “He actually said, ‘I do not care.” And “‘Why’, I asked, ‘do you always forget to do it?’”
Whenever you begin a sentence with introductory words, such as well, now or yes, succeed them with a comma. For instance, “Yes, I do need that report.” and “Well, I never thought I would live to see this day”.