The Comma Rules of Punctuation

Using the comma in a piece of writing is extremely confusing to most, most of the time. Also, it takes more rules than any other punctuation mark out there. The rules of using commas correctly in written discourse are as follows.

The Rules of Commas

1. The most important and widely used separate items in a list of entries. For instance:

Margaret, John, and Harry were present in the room when I reached.

There is a comma used before and, it is known as Oxford comma owing to its promotion British English style more than in the American. It is a punctuation used to avoid confusion, though many writers still go without it.

2. Parenthetical elements, which may or may not be part of the sentence, but describes some external attribute of the subject, take comma in it. For instance:

Johnny, who survived by chance, is still in comma.

3. Introductory phrases take comma afterward. Some of the introductory phrases begin with when, where, etc., use commas after them.

When Johnny had the accident, Mary was not there.

However, smaller introductory pieces, giving room for no confusion may omit the comma altogether.

In the evening her parents arrived.

Commas are used with introductory adverbial elements when they seem to apply to the whole sentence rather than only the main verb.

Finally, Mary understood the cause of Johnny’s stress.

To avoid confusion in meanings, it is the best to proofread and decide where to include a comma. Example:

Inside the kennel was dirty. As opposed to:

Inside, the kennel was dirty.

Don’t forget the comma to be used in absolute and infinite phrases.

Walking by the church, Johnny saw his friend Tim. (Dangling Modifier)

To get a better view of him, Johnny squinted.

4. Some of the following typographical situations take commas. Use comma when we refer to a place name with either the country or state.

Johnny first saw Tim in Atlanta, Florida.

When she found Tim in Atlanta, Florida, Mary thought of Johnny.

Between date and year: July 4, 2008.

In long sums: 150,312,422 exercised voting rights this year.

In names followed by titles: Bill Redman, attorney general.

Elements like etc., e.g., i.e., titles like Jr., take a comma when they do not end the sentence.

5. As if in a list, compound adjectives take a comma in between.

Johnny is a handsome, understanding, helpful young man.

Simpler adjectives in a series like this can go without comma.

Mary is an old fair woman.

6. Quoted elements have to be set off with commas.

Johnny told Mary, “I saw Tim back in Florida. He is a lot changed now.” Please note two commas here:

“I wonder,” Mary said, “what might have happened to your friend.”

When quotes are presented with that, this rule is forgotten. Also, simple quotes don't need comma.

Tim’s statement that “I found your mother last week” made Johnny confused.

Mary said “thanks” when Tim helped her.

7. Independent clauses split by and, but, or, etc., take a comma in between. For more information on this, please check out the rules for using semicolon, and comma splices and run-on sentences.

Johnny found Tim in the street, and Tim was very tired and inelegant.

8. Contrasting arguments take comma before.

Johnny tried to tell Tim that his mother was in Colorado, not in Atlanta.


Always make sure you proofread and edit your composition for errors. Commas are extremely hard to use correctly, and they are at the same time very valuable. Use them mostly to help prevent the confusion; a skilled writer doesn’t overuse commas.

Copyright © Lenin Nair 2008

3 Opinions:

  1. Another factor often overlooked when laying down the rules for commage usage is it's not always easy to see where a sentence ends. Hence the comma splice. For grammarians this may be easy, but for the rest of us it is not.

  2. I have a question about Oxford comma construction -- I can understand following this policy throughout your content (such as a website), but doubt that it would be appropriate in a title, such as a company's group name (Textiles, Apparel & Footwear). Especially as the title includes an ampersand...can anyone advise on this?

  3. @Anonymous: In such situations, you should NOT use comma. I think I mentioned it in a different post somewhere. Company names should be written as you mentioned: Lock, Lambert & Co. etc. But is "Textiles, Apparel & Footware" a company name? No. So, it should be "Textiles, Apparel, and Footware".


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