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Using the Comma Correctly

We have devoted this month to punctuation, but one punctuation mark in particular deserves a post of its own- the comma. It is very versatile and ubiquitous, but often misused. Here are the punctuation rules you should follow in applying the comma.

Use a Comma in the Following Circumstances:

    • separate groups of three or more items: "I like soccer, football, and baseball." Avoid confusion by using the Oxford comma, the final comma before "and."
    • separate two interchangeable adjectives: "the big, sturdy pole." If the adjectives are not interchangeable, as in "the windy ski resort," you do not add a comma.
    • separate two independent clauses joined by a conjunction such as "and," "but," or "or." Do not use a comma to join two complete sentences, which results in a run-on.
    • after certain words that introduce a sentence: "well," "so," "why," for example. "Why, this is useful information about the comma." Also use commas for sentence interruptions, or asides, as in, "I must say, by the way, that knowing how to use commas is pretty cool," and, "I think Julie, who is my sister, is a comma expert."
    • separate names or terms of endearment: "Tell me, Laura, what do you think about commas?" "I say, my dear friend, that I am quite keen on commas." Also use a comma after the name if a title follows the name, as a Jr. or Ph.D or M.D.
    • separate dates when the day is included, but not when stating just the month and year.
    • separate city from state or country: "I visited Seattle, Washington last year."
    • set off a dependent clause at the beginning of a sentence, "In my honest opinion, remembering to put commas after dependent clauses can be hard."
    • introduce or interrupt quotations.
    • separate a statement from a question, "I wonder, did you know a comma belongs here?"

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