The six rules listed below will eliminate nearly 98% of all your comma errors!
Why is this knowledge for adults only? Only because young people are supposed to learn all the rules for comma usage. As adults we don’t need to memorize all those terms, we just need to know how to write so our readers understand our intent. That’s why punctuation, especially the common comma, is not only necessary but a thing of beauty. Knowing what to call the part of speech (when you won’t be tested on it) is virtually useless; instead, pay close attention to the examples following each rule.
Place a comma after each introductory word, phrase, or clause.
- Finally, he got in his car and drove away.
- Under the new government, every citizen over 21 is allowed to vote.
- Once the parking tickets have been paid, you’ll get your license back.
Place a comma on each side of a nonessential element.
- My brother, who is younger than I am by five years, likes to work puzzles.
Place a comma before the coordinating conjunction when you combine two independent clauses into a single sentence.
- Her mother holds a doctorate from MIT, and her father teaches at Purdue.
Place a comma after but not before a dependent clause.
- When the fire alarm sounded, the children paraded out of the school building.
- The children paraded out of the school building when the fire alarm sounded.
Place a comma between items in a series.
- When you come over tonight, bring your sleeping bag, your pillow, and a few bags of popcorn.
Use a comma to separate a direct quote from a signal phrase such as “he said” or “she replied.”
- “I think you’d better put your hat back on,” she said laughing.
Now for your quiz: Which is correct?
Our friend the panda (immortalized in Lynne Truss’ book) eats, shoots, and leaves.
(OR) A panda eats shoots and leaves.
Rules retrieved on 10-9-2008 (but no longer available) at http://owlet.letu.edu/grammarlinks/punctuation/punct1.html