Using commas, one of the most frequently used marks of punctuation in the English language, is challenging for some. The comma has the widest variety of uses among all marks of punctuation as enumerated below.
Use of commas when stating dates, names, and large numbers is common. It is also used in addresses and in greetings.
Using commas for complete dates (month, day, and year) is important and necessary. However, they should be omitted when writing partial dates only (month and year). Below are examples.
- Germans first used gas on October 14, 1914, when they fired modern tear gas’ prototype from artillery near Pyres. – Paul Fussel
- Beth Henley was working on her fifth play on June 1985.
There is an exception to the rule of using commas. When separating parts of a date which begins with the day, comma should not be used.
For example: The atomic bomb was first dropped on 6 August 1945.
Use of commas is necessary when writing about elements in names of places and addresses. Below are examples.
- Writing Lab, University of California, Riverside
- Miami, Dade County, Florida
There is again an exception to the rule. Forget using commas when you will separate the street number from the name of the street.
20 Lakeland Park Avenue
Additionally, you should not observe the use of commas when separating a state from its zip code.
5625 Waverly Avenue, La Jolla, California 92037
In a complete sentence, using commas is necessary when in a complete sentence, you are writing about a date, address, or a name of a particular place. Take a look at the examples below.
- The man shot himself twice, one in the chest and in the head, in a police station in Washington, D.C., with the cops looking on. – Red Smith
- July 4, 1776, was an important day in American history. It was when the Declaration of Independence was signed.
Commas are also used to set off the name of a particular person who is directly addressed in the sentence. Below is an example.
Some time ago, Mr. Smith, I spoke to you about my availability should there be a summer job offering.
Using commas are important as well after the greeting is written in an informal or friendly letter. It is also important to observe the use of commas when closing your letter, regardless of its kind. Look at the examples below.
- Dear Martha,
- Yours truly,
Commas are also used to set off the degrees or titles after a person’s name:
John Smith, M.D., delivered the commencement address.
There is an exception to this rule. When writing prefixes like Jr. or Sr., using commas does not have to be observed.
John Smith Jr. began his singing career at age four.
The comma is also used when the last part of a proper name comes first.
Smith, John D.
Commas are also used to mark groups of three digits of numbers in huge amount, counting from your right hand side as show in the example below.
Antarctica is 5,400,000 square miles of ice-covered land.
Using Commas with Conjunctions
Using commas before the conjunctions (and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet) is important so they can link two independent clauses.
Canadians watch America closely, but most Americans know little about Canada.
There is an exception to this rule. There are brief independent clauses which may not require you to observe using commas.
Exception: Some very brief independent clauses may not require a comma.
- We dickered and then we made a deal. – Red Smith
- I have seen the future and now I’m tired of it. – Gerald Nachman
Remember that if one or both independent clauses have an internal punctuation like commas, a writer can choose to use a semicolon and a coordinating conjunction for the reader to see the main division in the sentence.
Genetically, we are nearly identical to mankind fifty thousand years ago; and some of us delight in the continuity represented by this, while others may be appalled. – Edward Hoagland
Using commas between two independent clauses (comma splice) must be observed at all times.
“I plan to travel to England”, my friend said happily. “I want to visit Shakespeare’s birthplace.”
Writers should utilize a semicolon, and not a comma, before the conjunction verb when writing a compound sentence.
Petra was absent on Friday; consequently, she missed the chemistry test.
Using commas to join coordinate clauses is often observed in novels, stories, and some types of journalistic writing than in serious expository prose. It is not a rule but an exception. Most writers observe the use of commas to join coordinate clauses in the following situations:
*When the series of sentences take the form of a climax:
- The leaves are turning to gold, squirrels are fattening, hunting time is near.
- I came, I saw, I conquered.
*When the statements are supposed to form an antithesis, or are arranged in the “it was not merely this, it was mainly that” formula:
- To allow the Mahdi to enter Khartoum would not merely mean to return the whole of the Sudan to barbarism, it would be a menace to the safety of Egypt herself. – Lyton Strachey
- It was more than an annoyance, it was a pang. – Winston S. Churchill
These are the ways you can use comma properly. Remember them and see how it can transform your writing when you observe using commas.