Commas are used to separate thoughts within a sentence allowing the reader to mentally pause and assimilate the full meaning of the sentence. The misuse of commas can alter the entire meaning of sentences.
The comma is used:
a) To set apart words in apposition. Appositives are words that identify or define other words.
Mr. Smith, our manager, will be there.
* Do not separate compound personal pronouns from the words they emphasize.
Jane herself will take on that project.
b) To set apart titles written after a person’s name.
John Smith, Ph.D. is the professor taking over that area.
* A comma may or may not be used before and after Jr. and Sr. following a name.
- John Smith, Jr., will be the successor to his father’s corporation.
- John Smith Jr. will be the successor to his father’s corporation.
* Omit periods and commas before and after II, III, and IV with names.
c) When setting apart the year from the month and the day in a sentence.
We’ve had to reschedule the fundraising event, which will now be held on June 15, 2006.
d) To separate successive nouns and adjectives in a sentence.
- Please don’t forget to bring pens, pencils, paper, and envelopes.
- We’re going to need balls, helmets, markers, etc., for the tournament.
* A comma is used before the final ‘and’ in a list of three or more items.
e) To introduce spoken words.
Mr. Smith said, “Do not charge service fees on the Dawson account.”
f) After the salutation and complimentary close of a personal or informal business letter.
Dear John, Best regards,
g) To coordinate adjectives as qualifying words preceding a noun.
We want it to be a clear, simplified, informative presentation.
* Don’t use a comma between two adjectives preceding a noun if the adjectives are too closely related to be separated:
- It’s an attractive quaint little motel along the shore.
- The reasonable additional cost for this perk is acceptable.
h) To separate the name of a person that is addressed from the rest of the sentence.
We welcome you, Jane, as the newest addition to our team.
i) To set off a contrasted word, phrase or clause.
A better way to get cooperation from your team members is by asking, not telling.
j) To set off a transitional word or expression when a pause is needed for clearness or emphasis.
- Therefore, this matter must be dealt with as quickly as possible.
- Indeed, it was a success.
- As was intended, the focus turned to costs.
* Do not use a comma when such words, phrases and clauses do not interrupt the thought or required punctuation for clearness.
- The board therefore voted unanimously in favor of the acquisition.
- It is indeed surprising that that they lost the contract.
- That decision in this case was expected.
k) To follow words such as yes, no, well when one of these words is at the beginning of a sentence.
- Yes, we expect him to arrive this week.
- Well, this is the case so we must implement plans to offset the losses.
Back to Punctuation Page