The comma is one of the most misused punctuation marks. Some people seem to haphazardly throw commas into what they write. Maybe they think that makes them appear as though they know what they are doing. It doesnít. All it does is show they need to brush up on their punctuation rules.
What is the job of a comma? Its purpose is to make your writing clearer and easier to understand. A comma tells the reader to take a slight pause in their reading. Iím just going to review the basic uses of a comma. For a more in-depth study of when to use them, please investigate the links included at the end of the article.
When is a comma used after the first word of a sentence?
>When the sentence begins with a noun of direct address.
Amanda, sit down and read your book.
>When the opening word needs to be emphasized.
Therefore, the killer is seated in this room.
A comma should be used to separate three of more items or elements in a series.
Please donít forget to bring the biscuits, honey, and butter.
Davidís job was to wash the clothes, fold them, and put them away.
When there are 2 adjectives that could be separated by the word and, a comma should go between them.
The tall, thin man crossed the narrow street.
There are all kinds of rules about when to use commas around phrases and clauses, too many rules. One of my teachers taught a simple way to tell when you need to put commas before (if it isnít beginning the sentence) or after a phrase or clause. If the sentence is complete without the phrase or clause, then commas are needed. If the sentence is not complete without the phrase or clause, then there is no need for commas.
When Ellie looked out her living room window, she noticed that four does were eating apples from her trees.
The salesman, glancing frantically from side to side, ran as fast as he could and climbed into his truck.
Commas are used to set off direct quotations.
ďMrs. Griffith,Ē said Mary, ďyou have such a beautiful garden.
Commas are used in addresses, numbers, and dates. They are used before a title in a name.
Robert McKenzie, Jr.
March 23, 2001
If any part of the date is omitted, a comma is not needed.
The parade on March 23 is a huge event for the town.
If a name with a title is used in a sentence, a comma is also used after the title.
Robert McKenzie, Jr., graduated from law school with honors.
Commas are used to separate parts of an address.
Mary Ann lived at 3427 Wilmington Street, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Large numbers need commas to make them easier to read.
Letís take another look at the first sentence from the classic A Tale of Two Cities by the great author Charles Dickens. Instead of no punctuation, the period and commas are added.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
The sentence, though extremely long, is much clearer with commas added and a period at the end. The only other punctuation in the above sentence is a dash, so commas play a major part in making that huge sentence easier to understand.