When you’re writing, do you know when to use a comma and when not to? Well, here are eight rules that should help clear things up for you. Commas can seem confusing at times, but if you remember these tips, you’ll be using them correctly in no time!
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8 Rules On How To Use Commas
Commas are one of the most frequently used and misused punctuation marks in the English language. The English language has 8 key rules that you need to know about using commas.
1. Independent Clauses
One of the most common uses of commas is to separate two independent clauses that are connected by one of a special set of conjunctions.
- The best way to understand or identify independent clauses is to know that they are sets of words that make up a complete sentence, including a subject and a verb.
Sometimes, two independent clauses like this are joined together in the same sentence and may require a comma for clarification. For example, look at the phrase “yes, please!”
There is normally a comma placed before some phrases like “as well as“. For example, “Tim is known for being funny, as well as cooking meals for his family.”
There is a special set of conjunctions that can be used to connect independent clauses within a sentence; the easiest way to remember them is to learn the word “FANBOYS,” which stands for “for,” “and,” “nor,” “but,” “or,” “yet,” and “so.” Thus, the following example sentence requires a comma.
- “The first act of the play was very long, so the couple had to leave before the second act.”
2. Creating A List
Another common use of commas is to separate a list of three or more items within a sentence as follows:
- “She went to the grocery store to purchase eggs, milk, bread, and soap.”
We dove into this particular comma rule in our post on comma before or after but. Which is yet another unique use case for this punctuation.
3. Commas & Quotations
Commas are used to introduce a quotation and often follow words like “said,” “answered,” and “yelled.”
- “After finishing the marathon, Sarah breathlessly exclaimed, ‘I’ve won!’”
4. Locations, Date, Month, Year Format
When full dates and locations are used in a sentence, commas are used. A comma should be placed between the city and state and after the state in a sentence.
“He recently moved to Lexington, Kentucky, to go to college.”
Also, when a full date is in a sentence, a comma is used after the day and the year.
- “On July 1, 1975, Sarah and Billy were married.”
For many people, the date format can be tricky. Is it month date year format, date month year format, or even day month year format? In most cases, you should be writing dates with the traditional month date year format.
5. Contrasting Phrases
Commas are used at the end of a sentence when there is a contrasting phrase or element. The following examples provide some clarification.
- “She was simply lazy, not stupid.”
- “She was one of the student who was caught, wasn’t she?”
6. Comma Usage With Coordinate Adjectives
Sometimes, commas are used between two adjectives that describe the same noun. This rule does not apply in all cases; it only applies when the order adjectives could be reversed and when the word the word “and” could be placed in between the adjectives.
- “The cat had long, soft fur.”
- “The short, bright vase was just what the interior designer wanted.”
7. Optional Phrases Or Clauses
Use commas to separate an optional phrase or clause from the rest of the sentence. You will know a phrase is optional if it could be removed from the sentence without changing the sentence’s meaning.
- “July 4th, which also happens to be Independence Day, is my birthday.”
8. After Introductory Phrases
Finally, use a comma after an introductory phrase that comes before the main part of the sentence.
- “When the weather gets warmer, we will start grilling outside.”
- “For the rest of the day, we are planning to paint the house.”
Best way to write a date in reverse style
In the world of writing, there are certain conventions in writing that must be followed in order to ensure clarity and avoid confusion.
When it comes to dates, this means writing them in a specific format: month, day, year (month day year format).
However, there is one exception to this rule: inverted style dates.
- Inverted style dates are written in the reverse order, with the year first, followed by the month and then the day.
This format is commonly used in formal documents, such as legal contracts. While it may take a little getting used to, using inverted style dates is a simple way to add a touch of formality to your writing.
Comma with non-restrictive clauses
A non-restrictive clause is simply a clause that provides additional information about a noun in the middle of a sentence.
“My cat, who loves to chase birds, is named Mister Snuggles.” In this sentence, the non-restrictive clause is “who loves to chase birds.”
This type of clause is non-essential to the meaning of the sentence, which is why we place commas around it. So the next time you’re wondering whether or not to use a comma with a non-restrictive clause, just ask yourself if the information is essential to the meaning of the sentence.
If not, then go ahead and throw in a couple of commas!
Serial commas, also known as an Oxford comma, are those pesky little commas that come before the word “and” in a list.
For example, if you were to list your favorite breakfast foods, you might say “eggs, bacon, and toast.” See that little comma before the “and”? That’s a serial comma. Some people love them and some people hate them, but there’s no denying that they can be useful.
- Serial commas help to separate each element in a series of three or more, making the list easier to read and understand.
So, whether you love them or hate them, there’s no doubt that serial commas can be helpful.
Definition: A comma splice is a comma mistake that happens when you use a comma to join two independent clauses.
For example, you might write, “I’m studying for my English test, I can’t go to the party.” To fix a comma splice, you can use a period, semicolon, or conjunction.
For example, you could write, “I’m studying for my English test. I can’t go to the party,” “I’m studying for my English test; I can’t go to the party,” or “I’m studying for my English test, so I can’t go to the party.”
The best option depends on what sounds best in the context of your sentence. So, next time you’re tempted to use a comma to join two independent clauses, think twice!
The listing comma
The listing comma, also known as the serial comma, is the most common way to separate one list item from the next. For example, in the sentence “I bought eggs, milk, and bread at the store,” the listing comma separates the items in the list (eggs, milk, and bread).
Multiple adjectives that modify or describe the same noun
Adjectives are words that modify or describe other words, and they can be a great way to add detail and color to your writing. However, when you use multiple adjectives to modify the same noun, it’s important to use commas to separate them. This will help your reader understand what you’re saying and prevent confusion.
Commas In Compound sentences
In the case of compound sentences, commas can help to break up a long sentence and make it easier to read. But it’s important to use them sparingly.
Overuse of commas can make a sentence sound choppy and difficult to follow. When used correctly, however, commas can be invaluable tools for improving clarity and preventing misunderstandings.
5 Example Sentences With A Comma
Here are 5 example sentences that demonstrate how to use a comma correctly in your writing.
- I went to the store, but I forgot my wallet.
- Sarah loves to travel, especially to exotic locations.
- The weather was hot, so we decided to go for a swim.
- In his spare time, John enjoys playing video games.
- My favorite colors are blue, green, and purple.
FAQs – Comma Usage
You can use a comma to separate the independent clauses in a compound sentence. For example, “I have a cat and a dog,” or “I like to read books, and I also like to watch movies.” However, you don’t need to use a comma if the two clauses are very short and closely related, such as “I brush my teeth and take a shower.”
1) Use a comma to separate independent clauses when they are joined by a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so).
2) Use a comma after introductory words and phrases.
3) Use a comma after direct address.
4) Use commas in compound numbers over 999.
5) Use a comma to set off non-essential elements in a sentence.
The 2 commas are called serial commas. Serial commas are used to separate items in a list or series. For example, if you were listing the items in a store, you would use a serial comma to separate each item.
The comma is also used before a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or) to join two adjectives modifying the same noun. Example: The red, fuzzy blanket was soft and warm.
Yes, it can be confusing for the reader. A sentence with too many commas can make it difficult to follow the logic or story being told. In general, it’s best to use a comma when there is a pause in the sentence, or when you need to add extra information.
The correct way to write a date with just the month and the year is “MM/YYYY.” For example, if the date is September 12, 2025, you would write it as “09/2025.” Some people choose to omit the leading zeroes in the month, so the date appears as “9/2025.” However, this can be confusing, so it’s best to use the full month whenever possible.
Commas can be confusing, but with a little practice and these 8 rules, you’ll be using them like a pro. Whether you’re writing an email, a blog post or just want to look smarter at your next holiday party, following these simple tips will help improve your writing skills.