English Comma Rules

Master English Comma Rules: Simple Tips for Clear Writing

Commas clarify meaning by indicating pauses and separating elements within a sentence. The presence (or absence) of a comma can subtly or dramatically change the meaning of a sentence. Below, we have shared 13 simple English comma rules that will enhance your writing clarity.

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13 Easy to Understand English Comma Rules With Examples

  1. After multi-word introductory comments:
    • Example: When I was a child, I lived in a small town.
  2. After certain introductory words such as yes & no:
    • Example: Yes, I am very interested in the job.
  3. Before a quote:
    • Example: He said, “We have to finish today.”
  4. To separate two interchangeable adjectives:
    • Example: A serious, complicated situation.
  5. In lists of three or more items:
    • Example: We need our laptops, phones, and some paper. (see rule #13)
  6. To set off nonessential information:
    • Example: That guy over there, the one in the blue suit, is really hard to work with.
  7. With the word which + non essential info:
    • Example: This printer, which is just one year old, doesn’t work anymore.
  8. To separate a statement from a question tag:
    • Example: That’s correct, isn’t it?
  9. To separate the day of the month and the year in American English:
    • Example: August 12, 2017 (But do not use a comma when you write the day, month & year in British English style: 12 August 2017.)
  10. To separate a city from its state:
    • Example: Chicago, Illinois.
  11. To separate independent clauses (phrases that could be written as complete sentences):
    • Example: The report is due tomorrow, so I plan to work over the weekend.
  12. With conjunctive adverbs such as however:
    • Example: The weather forecast is bad, however, we are hoping for some sun.
  13. And finally – The Oxford comma (see rule #5) – also called the serial comma and the Harvard comma – is a subject of debate. In other words, there is no right or wrong usage rule, except that you must use it when it is needed to avoid confusion. Whether you use the Oxford comma is a matter of style – some style guides call for it, and others don’t. Check your school or company style guide and punctuate your texts accordingly.
    • A famous example is: Eats, shoots, and leaves vs. Eats shoots and leaves. The first described a murderer. The second describes a koala bear. 🙂

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Comma Rules Made Simple was first published in 2018 and edited May 2024.

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