Ten Easy Comma Rules

Commas are a useful punctuation device that separates the structural components of a sentence. However, so many people do not know how to use them correctly.

Learn the comma rules once and for all so you can prevent comma splices in your papers.

Before you can understand when to use a comma and when not to, you need to know what elements need to be in a sentence. Click here to learn how to write a sentence.

Once you know how to write a basic sentence and the elements that a sentence contains, then you should proceed with the following information about comma rules.

The Ten Comma Rules

  1. Rule 1:

    Use a comma between items that are listed in a series, which contain three or more words or clauses.

  2. Example: We went to a movie, ate dinner and then went to a party.

    Example: I bought a chocolate cake, strawberry pie and some ice cream for the party.

  3. Rule 2:

    Use a comma when quoting the words of others.

  4. Example: Michele grabbed her keys and said, “I won’t be back.”

    Example: “Don’t hit your sister,” my mother warned.

    For more information on how to use quotes, click here.

  5. Rule 3:

    Use a comma when writing dates and addresses.

  6. Example: My address is 1234 Fake Lane Drive, Chula Vista, CA 91910.

    Example: We are going to Ireland on May 25, 2012.

  7. Rule 4:

    Use a comma after introductory phrases.

  8. Example: Despite the fact that we haven’t spoken in weeks, I still sent Heather a gift for her birthday.

    Example: After washing my hands, I cut the cake.

  9. Rule 5:

    Use a comma before a coordinating conjunction when it joins two independent clauses. A coordinating conjunction, also known as FANBOYS, include for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so. Remember independent clauses are two complete sentences.

  10. For additional help on what a complete sentence is, click here for information on how to write a sentence.

    Example: The weather was rainy, and it was very cold.

    Example: The girls overslept, so they did not go to school.

  11. Rule 6:

    Use a comma after a subordinate/dependent clause when it begins a sentence. Subordinate/dependent clauses begin with words like if, because, after, when, as, while, since, even though, although, before, and whenever.

  12. Example: While I ate my sandwich, my brother played. (dependent clause is at the start of the sentence, so a comma is needed)

    Example: My brother played while I ate my sandwich. (dependent clause is second, so no comma is needed)

    For more information on independent and dependent clauses, click here.

  13. Rule 7:

    Use a comma to set off an adjective clause if it is not essential to the meaning of the sentence. Adjective clauses usually start with words like that, which or who.

  14. Example: My uncle, who lives in Santa Barbara, loves to surf.

    Example: The college, which is in El Cajon, is very nice.

    For a better explanation on adjective clauses, click here.

  15. Rule 8:

    Use a common when using conjunctive adverbs.

    Conjunctive adverbs are words like however, on the other hand, although, nevertheless, consequently, therefore, especially, moreover, and for example .

  16. Example: The Chargers looked like they were going to make it to the super bowl, however, I decided to root for the Cowboys.

    Example: I decided to ask for a raise and, consequently, I was fired.

  17. Rule 9:

    Use a comma to break up the flow of a sentence.

  18. Example: Michelle, clean up your room!

    Example: The entire congregation, known for their generous giving, donated money to build a new parking lot.

  19. Rule 10:

    Use a comma to set off an appositive word or phrase that is used to describe or identify another noun.

  20. Example: That was the best day of my life, the day when my daughter was born. (“day” is repeated and is described further after the comma).

Don’t let these ten comma rules make you feel overwhelmed. By being able to identify when you should use a comma and when you shouldn’t, you are only advancing yourself as a writer. Remember, practice is key.

Learn these comma rules so you can avoid comma splices!

Think you have these rules down?

Test your comma usage in these English grammar exercises.

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