Five Tips for Using Commas

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Do you find commas confusing? Don’t worry – you’re not alone. Commas have a variety of functions yet many people are uncertain of how to use them. The main purpose of a comma is to clarify meaning by grouping together specific parts of the sentence. Each group within the sentence is separated by a comma which marks a slight break.

Let’s look at five instances when you need to use a comma in more detail:

  1. Use commas as part of a list

    When you’re writing a list, the most common way to differentiate between each item by using a comma between them.

    For example:
    • My favourite foods are jacket potatoes, quiche, spaghetti and fish and chips.

    Learn more about how to use commas (and other punctuation marks) to make your lists as clear as possible here.

  2. Use commas when formatting direct speech

    In writing, there are two types of speech: direct speech and reported speech. The term direct speech refers to when the actual words of a speaker are quoted in the text, while the term reported speech refers to when the gist of someone’s word are described.

    Commas are used to help make clear when speech begins and ends and to help structure other details such as who is talking or how the words are said. You can learn more about how to format direct speech here and about how commas are used in direct speech here.
  3. Use commas to separate clauses

    A clause is a group of words containing a verb that can either stand alone as a complete sentence or make up part of a more complex sentence. Complex sentences are usually split into main clauses and subordinate clauses using commas. Learn more about commas and clauses here.
  4. Use commas to offset a parenthesis

    A parenthesis is a dispensable word or phrase inserted into a sentence as an explanation or afterthought. Commas (as well as brackets and dashes) are used to mark these asides.

    For example:
    • Her parents, of course, were thrilled with the news of her promotion.
    • Her parents, Sally and James, were thrilled with the news of her promotion.

    If you are unsure about your commas, try replacing them with brackets and checking to see if the sentence still makes sense.

  5. Use a comma with the word ‘however’

    When you use the word ‘however’ to show a contrast or alternative opinion, use a comma after it.

    For example:
    • England is famous for its horrible weather. However, this summer has been very hot.
    • Her parents were proud of her promotion, however, it didn’t stop them worrying about her finances.

If you are using ‘however’ to mean ‘whatever way’, a comma is not necessary:

    • However you look at it, you can’t deny that the team worked hard.
    • However hard you try to please everyone, someone will always be disappointed.

If you found this article useful, you may be interested in our other posts about punctuation:

18 Jul 2018
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One of the students has put in a huge amount of effort in completing Spellzone at least 3 times a week since his arrival with us in January. Looking at his scores after the latest GL testing, his standardised score has risen from 99 to 131. This is a truly phenomenal result. I just wanted to share the best result I have ever seen.

Terrie Penrose-Toms, Casterton College