Tag Archives: comma placement

12 Major Comma Uses Explained


Commas are confusing because they are used in many ways. However, the basic principle to using commas is simple: Use commas to separate clauses and phrases within sentences that have their own meaning.

The “rules” for commas below are broadly, but not universally, accepted. However, a careful writer considers two central issues:

  • Reader understanding and
  • Consistency.

The comma guidelines below will help readers understand your message in many cases. However, even if they are not necessary to improve reader understanding, follow them for consistency. Consistency is a characteristic of professional technical writing.

1. Series

The commas help the reader find each unique item (or group of items) in a series by separating them.

Example: School officials are dismayed by poor grades, low attendance, and high drug use.

2. Joining Sentences

You can join two complete sentences with coordinating conjunctions. (The entire set of coordinating conjunctions is for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so. Together, these create the acronym FANBOYS.) The comma lets the reader know when one point is complete and the next will begin. This comma use only applies when you have complete sentences on either side of the conjunction.

Example: The screen inverter stopped working, and the motherboard began to smoke.

3. Introductory Descriptions

An introductory description is before the subject and describes the main verb in some way, such as when, where, how, and why. The comma at the end of the description signals the reader that the main point of the sentence is about to begin. For consistency, do this with even short introductory descriptions. In the following example, the introductory description is underlined.

Example: Following the symposium, participants collaborated on projects. Continue reading

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What Do Commas Do?


What Do Commas Do?

I have been receiving quite a few questions about the basic purpose of the comma. For example, one Twitter follower asked simply, “Can you explain what commas are for?”

Twitter isn’t really the place for lengthy discussions, so I responded “Commas are used to separate meaningful units in sentences.” Here’s a more lengthy response about the value of commas and how they are used, taken from the introductory sections of Zen Comma.

Commas are confusing

The final stage of the writing process is proofreading: correcting any errors in spelling, punctuation, word usage, and format. Roughly 75% of what I do while proofreading clients’ documents is correct commas.

When I teach community writing courses at the university, I ask the students, “What’s the number one thing that confuses you about punctuation and grammar?” In every class, someone says “Commas,” and about half of the students nod in agreement.

Commas confuse most people. Unlike other types of punctuation, they are used in so many ways. The purpose of this book is to show you how to use them correctly.

If you want to write clearly and professionally, you need to use commas correctly. Continue reading

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Bumbo Learns about Implied Words


The Koan

The teacher went to the platform to give his lesson on commas. He looked at the students, saying nothing. Then he wrote a comma on the wall and left. “Ah,” said Bumbo. “Missing words need commas, too!”

The Lesson

When the teacher stands before the students, saying nothing, all his words are implied. What Bumbo learns is that whether the sentence contains all the words or whether some words are purposefully left out, a writer needs to use commas as if they were all there. The comma left behind by the teacher indicates that comma rules apply even when some words are missing from a sentence. Continue reading

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