The Quick and Easy Comma Guide
Do Commas Give You Pause?
It seems that most writers struggle with commas. We worry about using too
many or too few. We aren't sure when the comma is required, optional or
unneeded. We waver between the "breath" rule and "when in doubt, leave
it out." Adding to this anxiety is the variety of editing styles writers
face. Is there an easy way to know when to use and when not to use the
comma? I think so. While it may not cover every situation, this document
is meant to give writers a simple guide to common comma usage.
Major Uses of Commas:
After an introductory clause or phrase, use
a comma. However, the comma is optional if the introduction is very
Use commas to set off transitional phrases;
for example, phrases that include "however", "therefore", "for example"
and "in other words". Only use commas with transitional phrases at
the beginning and middle of sentences.
Before you begin the project, please review the guidelines.
As we are in a hurry, promptness would be appreciated.
Tomorrow we will contact your supervisor.
Commas separate items in lists, inventories,
and rosters used in a sentence. If your items are grouped (e.g., Laurel
and Hardy), use the comma to set apart the group. The comma before the
final conjunctive "and" is optional. Use it if it helps the reader. Do
not use the comma before the first item or after the last item of a list.
The cost of the part, as estimated by the contractor, is within our budget
However, William was unable to find time to make the repairs.
This has caused a major delay; therefore, the product release date has
Use commas to set off parenthetical or non-essential
information, which may be adjective clauses and phrases, or appositives.
if the clause or phrase significantly changes the meaning of the sentence,
do not use a comma.
The new technician is responsible for set-up, operation and quality control.
Ttraining, evaluation and feedback are her supervisor's responsibility.
Her orientation includes meetings with Personnel, Research and Design,
Commas should be used with conjunctions to
join independent clauses, but they should not be used with dependent clauses.
with very short independent clauses may not need a comma.
The contract, which was signed this week, gives the company full ownership
of the film.
We have already had several meetings with Steven Spielberg, the director
of the film.
The filming schedules, with photographs of locations, are included in your
"Quotations, dates, addresses, and numbers,"
he stated, "All require the use of commas."
I received your offer this week, and you can expect my written answer very
The starting date was not listed in your letter, but I assume you need
I will call you next week or you can leave a message with my service.
"On February 19, 1999, we began the investigation," answered the inspector.
entered the premises at 40 South Grant Avenue, Beaverton, Oregon, at 2pm.
There we found approximately $200,000 in cash."
Other Comma Usage
There are other cases requiring commas. For a complete guide to comma usage,
see The Bedford Handbook for Writers, or any other good grammar
Brevity, the Soul of Good Writing
In many of the examples given above, using a simpler sentence structure
could eliminate confusion for the writer and reader. For example, independent
clauses can be correctly joined to form a compound sentence. But it may
be more effective to write the clauses as separate sentences. Choosing
the simpler method usually makes your document easier for your reader to
understand. And this is really the point of good writing, isn't it?
Written By: George Knox © 1999