The Comma Compendium: How to Use Any Type of Comma You Can Think Of and Why

There are so many reasons to use commas! They’re like the salt and pepper of writing, right? Well, actually, not quite. There is a time and a place for each comma. Use this brief guide to identify your case and get the details on how to jot down those commas like a pro! Getting the details right can make the difference between mediocre writing and exceptional work.

With Conjunctions

Coordinating Conjunctions

  • E.g.) I’m studying English, and I’m also practicing my writing skills.
  • Simply place a comma at the end of the first sentence, and then the conjunction before the second sentence. (for, and, nor, but, or, so)

Subordinating Conjunctions

  • E.g.) I want to travel because I love seeing new places.
  • Do not place a comma before subordinating conjunctions. (after, although, as, because, before, even though, if, since, though, unless, until, when, whenever, whereas, wherever, and while)

Compound Predicates

  • E.g.) I called my friend to make plans and told her about everything that happened recently.
  • Do not place a comma before the conjunction in a compound predicate. If there is no new independent clause after the conjunction (noun + verb) then most likely there should not be a comma either.

Restrictive/Non-Restrictive Phrases

Introductory Phrases

  • E.g.) If the weather is nice, we’ll go for a picnic.
  • Introductory phrases are separated from the independent clause with a comma.

Interrupters

  • E.g.) “Hey, what are you doing?”
  • If at the beginning of a sentence, the interrupter should be separated from the independent clause with a comma.
  • E.g.) “I really think you should talk to him, all the same.”
  • If at the end of a sentence, place a comma before the phrase.
  • E.g.) “The fastest route, as you know, is to go over the bridge.”
  • If in the middle of a sentence, place commas both before and after.

Appositives

  • E.g.) State senator Smith went to Washington.
  • E.g.) I saw my friend, Kat, on the way to school.
  • If the appositive is restrictive, do not use commas. If it is non-restrictive, offset it with commas on both sides.

Relative Clauses

  • E.g.) The balloon that floated away was pearl red.
  • E.g.) The festival in the park, which attracted many visitors, was so cheerful.
  • If the relative clause is restrictive, do not use commas. If it is non-restrictive, offset it with commas on both sides.

Introducing Examples

Including/Such As

  • E.g.) The map including the whole route was the most useful.
  • E.g.) Graded material, including your essays, will be turned in weekly.
  • If the example phrase is restrictive, do not use commas. If it is non-restrictive, offset it with commas on both sides.

I.e./E.g.

  • E.g.) There are four seasons (i.e., spring, summer, fall, and winter).
  • E.g.) There are four seasons, i.e., spring, summer, fall, and winter.
  • The abbreviations i.e. and e.g. are both always immediately followed by a comma. These phrases may also follow the rules of interrupters if written without parentheses.

Misc.

Lists

  • E.g.) I checked out a book, a movie, and a CD from the library.
  • The comma rules for lists are quite detailed depending on the format of the list, so it’s best to check the full explanation linked by the “Lists” title above. In general, list items are separated by commas, using or omitting the final oxford comma at the discretion of the author.

Quotations

  • E.g.) Max whispered, “He doesn’t know I’m here yet.”
  • E.g.) “I really want to know,” Sally exclaimed, “how to find the answer!”
  • E.g.) The label read “do not open”, but she just couldn’t stand the suspense.
  • The comma rules for quotations also depend heavily upon the format of the quoted phrase, so be sure to check the full article. Formatting differs between American and British English, but (as per British rules) generally you should only include a comma inside closing quotation marks if the comma was present in the original statement as well. For dialogue, a comma often precedes quoted text and also marks the end of it (inside the quotation marks) if the attribution comes after.

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