Comma Rules

Rule 1:

Use commas to separate items written in a series such as separate items or words, phrases and subordinate clauses and short independent clauses in a series.

Example: The mountains, the lakes, the meadows and the wildlife should be protected in this area.

Note: The conjunction AND in the above sentence for the last item in the series does not need a comma as the comma in a series actually functions as a conjunction. However, use a comma before the conjunction to avoid confusion with series of long phrases.

Rule 2:

Use a comma to separate two or more adjectives (descriptive words) BEFORE a noun if the word order of the two could be reversed and the word "and" could be substituted for the comma.

Example: The weary, emaciated man collapsed.
The emaciated and weary man collapsed.

Note: Do not put a comma between the last adjective and the noun.

Wrong: The lazy, rebellious, boy was suspended. (Microsoft Word does not catch this.)

Right: The lazy, rebellious boy was suspended.

Rule 3:

Direct address - use commas to set off direct address. (When you write a situation where one character speaks directly to another person and uses their name.)

Rule 4:

Interrupters - Use commas to set off introductory words and expressions which interrupt the sentence. These expressions are often called parenthetical expressions because the words themselves are not essential to the sentence and could be placed in parentheses.

Examples of introductory words and interrupters: yes, no, well, indeed, nevertheless, however, I believe, in fact , of course, in my opinion, on the other hand, to tell the truth, on the contrary.

Rule 5:

Addresses and dates - Use commas to separate and enclose the separate items in dates and addresses.

Example: Florence-Carlton School, located at 5602 Old Highway 93, Florence, Montana 59833, started school this year September 4, 1990.

Rule 6:

Compound sentences - Use a comma before AND, BUT, FOR, NOR, OR in a compound sentence.

Example: The menacing dog growled, and I approached him cautiously.

Rule 7:

Appositives and appositive phrases - use commas to set off and enclose an appositive (a word or phrase which can be substituted for a name - do not confuse this rule for renaming a noun with merely describing a noun.)

Example: Tony Ahern, the captain of the soccer team, is in my English class.

Note: Short or one word appositives are not set off with commas such as my friend Bill or my sister Maresa.

Rule 8:

Non-essential phrases or clause - Use commas to set off and enclose nonessential phrases or clauses (participial phrases or dependant clauses which are not essential to the meaning of the sentence.) Generally, nonessential phrases or clauses serve to provide extra information or clarification.

Example: My all-time favorite car, with its teardrop head lights and classic grill, is a 1940 Ford coupe.

The whitetail buck, scenting the air and scanning the trail ahead of him, cautiously entered the grain field.

Some nonessential clauses begin with who, whom, which or that and include a verb.

Example: The president of our student body, who is an honor student, studied diligently for the exam every night for a week.


The following are examples of clauses which are essential to identifying the person or subject and which, consequently, can not be unhooked and dropped from the sentence.

The man who is wearing a tan jacket looks suspicious. (If you dropped the clause "who is wearing a tan jacket," you wouldn't know which man looks suspicious.

At the end of the day, all girls who are on the basketball team report to the gym. (If you removed the clause "who are on the basketball team," the sentence would be absurd.)

Rule 9:

Introductory clause or phrases - Use a comma after an introductory clause or more than one phrase at the beginning of a sentence.

Example: After we won the game, we celebrated at Wagon Wheel.

Note: No comma is used when the clause is at the end of the sentence.

Rule 10:

Letters - use a comma after the greeting in a friendly letter and after the closing expression

Example: Dear Mom,

Your loving son,

Comma Rules are provided by Mr. Archer, a high school English teacher at Florence-Carlton school.

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