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Comma Rules

Teacher/Instructor Katie Aquino
Katie Aquino

Writing, Grammar, Literature, ACT Prep
Education: M.Ed.,Stanford University

Katie is an enthusiastic teacher who strives to make connections between literature and student’s every day lives.

Comma rules state that commas must be used to separate items in a series, set off non-essential information or introductory clauses, and link independent clauses to independent clauses. Commas must also be used to coordinate adjectives, set off quotations, link dependent clauses to dependent clauses, and separate words in common conventions.

Alright, so now we are talking comma rules and I know commas can be an intimidating thing, we use them all the time so sometimes it's hard to remember when it's right to use it and when it's wrong to use it. So let's review the basic comma rules and then we'll take a look at how they work in writing.
So the first comma rule is; use commas with items in a series. So when you've got a list of things or maybe even a list of adjectives, you're going to separate those things with commas. The second rule; nonessential interrupting information. So when you've got information in your sentences that isn't necessary to the understanding, in other words you could drop it out of the sentence, and the sentence would still mean the same thing, you want to make sure you set that off with commas. The third rule; when you lead into a sentence with an introductory clause or a phrase, set that off with a comma. Then the fourth rule; when you link two independent clauses together using one of those coordinating conjunctions; FANBOYS, for, and, nor, but, or, yet or so. If you're going to include that FANBOY you've got to throw a comma in front it, so that's the mode of linking those together. The fifth rule is when you've got coordinate adjectives. That just means when you've got more than one adjective describing the same noun, you want to make sure you separate them with a comma. Six, you're going to use those commas also to set quotations off from the rest of your writing. Seven, you're going to link a dependent clause to an independent clause with a comma. One thing to note about this rule though is that only it needs to be used when you lead with the dependent clause. So it's going to be dependent clause comma independent clause. You wouldn't flip it the other way around, so you wouldn't do independent clause comma dependent clause. Just keep that in mind with rule seven. And then finally this rule, I'm sure you're very familiar with this, just the common conventions like numbers or dates or to separate cities from states and that kind of thing, those expectations that we have.
So, let me talk to you about one trick that I have, and I admit it's not the super easiest one because it's not going to help you remember all of those rules right away but the one thing I can say is that you've got to use these rules to make sure you should be using a comma or to make sure you shouldn't be using a comma. So the bottom line is; check your rules. If you're not sure whether a comma should be there or not, see if it matches up to one of these eight things. If it does, you're good to go; if it doesn't, you've got a comma splice.
So let's take a look a little bit at some commas in action. Alright, so we've got this sentence "Oh my gosh, I can't believe you just said that." So we've got two commas at work here; the first one separates "Oh my gosh" here. And "Oh my gosh" kind of plays two different roles; it's definitely an introductory clause but it's one of those nonessential pieces. So we know twofold that we've got to make sure we have a comma there. That's rules number two and rule number three. Alright? And then you have "I can't believe you said that," she screamed." So this is your dialogue tag that attaches these quotations to the rest of the sentence. And we said with rule number six, you want to make sure that you use that comma to separate the quotation from that dialogue to agree with the rest of the sentence.
Alright, the next example. "Because my school is not air-conditioned, true story it's not air conditioned," true story it's not air-conditioned I'm not really looking forward to going back but, "I get to buy cute, sleeveless dresses." So this first comma here, is following comma rule number seven. Alright, we have this subordinating conjunction "because" here and we know when that leads off a clause, it makes it a dependent clause. So rule number seven says we have to link a dependent clause to an independent clause. Which is "I get to buy cute sleeveless dresses." Alright, second comma here we've got two adjectives "cute" and "sleeveless" both describing dresses, so those are our coordinate adjectives and that's an example of comma rule number five being used. So you can see some of these in action.
Let's take a look and see if you can help me add the commas to this paragraph. So as I read kind of think about where you might place them. It says "Chicago public schools is collaborating with "g-Team" a segment of the Chicago based web company aimed at connecting people to their communities on the project. Kits will provide students with folders notebooks pens and pencils." Alright, so we've got a lot going on here in one big sentence. What we want to do is make sure that we get the commas in the right place to make sure that we are emphasizing the right things. So we've got "Chicago public schools is collaborating with g Team" and what you notice here is this part of the sentence "a segment of the Chicago based web company aimed at connecting people to their community" is just a way of re-telling us what g Team is, so it's not essential information. If we dropped this underlying part out, the sentence would still make sense here. So when we said that we had nonessential information we wanted to make sure we separated it with commas. I'm going to put the comma here, inside the quotation mark, because that's what grammatical rules say to do, and then I'm going to throw another comma here down at the end to set off that nonessential information. Then the next sentence picks up "Kits will provide students with folders notebooks pens and pencils." So that's a list of items there, we've got to throw in a list of commas in to separate the items. We've got folders, notebooks, and here's where we need to stop for just a second, this is actually the first one as an optional comma. When you've got items in a series, connected with that conjunction "and", you have the option of throwing a comma in before the "and" or not; either is technically grammatically correct. I choose not to but if you threw that in there you weren't altogether incorrect either. So see commas aren't that scary when we just slow down and think about these eight rules that we have here.