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Commas, Part 1

There are many uses for the comma in English grammar. Let’s look at a couple of them.

Rule 1: To avoid confusion, use commas to separate words and word groups with a series of three or more.

Examples:

John likes to eat a hearty breakfast of pancakes, sausage, toast, and chocolate!

(Omitting the comma after toast might cause a reader to think that toast and chocolate together formed one food item rather than two separate items that John enjoyed eating at breakfast.)

Sally danced in ballet classes, school productions, and community shows.

Rule 2a: Use a comma to separate the day of the month from the year, and also place one after the year.

Examples:

Jim Thompson gave his historic speech on March 3, 2002, in Chicago, Illinois.

Kathleen met her husband on December 5, 2003, in Mill Valley, California.

Rule 2b: If any part of the date is omitted, leave out the comma.

Example:

They met in December 2003 in Mill Valley.

Quiz:

Choose the sentence with the correct punctuation.

1A. Mr. Baker teaches high school courses in history, math, and physical education.

1B. Mr. Baker teaches high school courses in history, math and physical education.

2A. The couple’s vacation is scheduled to end on January 2 2010.

2B. The couple’s vacation is scheduled to end on January 2, 2010.

3A. The vice president of the group was elected back in March 1998.

3B. The vice president of the group was elected back in March, 1998.

Answers:

1A. Mr. Baker teaches high school courses in history, math, and physical education.

2B. The couple’s vacation is scheduled to end on January 2, 2010.

3A. The vice president of the group was elected back in March 1998.

 

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Posted on Wednesday, October 24, 2012, at 6:59 pm


Commas, Part 2

Today, we’ll examine two more uses for the comma.

Rule 1: If something or someone is sufficiently identified, the description following it is considered nonessential and should be surrounded by commas.

Examples:
Freddy, who has a limp, was in an automobile accident.
(Freddy is named, so the description of him that immediately follows is not essential.)

The boy who has a limp was in an automobile accident.
(We do not know which boy is being referred to without having that further description; therefore, it is essential and no commas are used.)

Joanna Ferguson, a senior English major, is the best athlete in the school.
(Joanna is named, so the description that immediately follows is not essential.)

The crew members who work in our building are very friendly.
(We don’t know which crew members are being referred to without the description that follows, so no commas are used.)

Rule 2: Use the comma to separate two sentences if it will help avoid confusion.

Examples:
I chose the colors red and green, and blue was his first choice.

He will coach his younger son, and his older son will help tutor the children on the team.

Pop Quiz

Choose the sentence with the correct punctuation.

1A. Julie Andrews one of the most famous film stars in history starred in The Sound of Music.

1B. Julie Andrews, one of the most famous film stars in history, starred in The Sound of Music.

2A. I saw the girl with the red hair at the grocery store last night.

2B. I saw the girl, with the red hair, at the grocery store last night.

3A. Susan had to say the words slowly, and quickly he looked up to see she was crying.

3B. Susan had to say the words slowly and quickly he looked up to see she was crying.

Answers to Pop Quiz

Correct answers indicated by an asterisk (*).

1A. Julie Andrews one of the most famous film stars in history starred in The Sound of Music.

1B.* Julie Andrews, one of the most famous film stars in history, starred in The Sound of Music.

2A.* I saw the girl with the red hair at the grocery store last night.

2B. I saw the girl, with the red hair, at the grocery store last night.

3A.* Susan had to say the words slowly, and quickly he looked up to see she was crying.

3B. Susan had to say the words slowly and quickly he looked up to see she was crying.

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Posted on Tuesday, August 11, 2009, at 9:45 am


The Power of Punctuation

If you question the necessity of punctuation, here is a story that should illustrate its power.

A professor wrote on the chalkboard: A woman without her man is nothing.
He asked students to correct any punctuation errors. While most of the male students saw nothing wrong with the sentence, most of the females rewrote the sentence as follows: “A woman: without her, man is nothing.” As you can see, meaning is often derived from punctuation.

The use of the comma can be tricky with lists, particularly when appositives are used. (Appositives are words that clarify a word or words that came before.)

Example: Her book dedication read: To my parents, Sophie and Andrew

If Sophie and Andrew are her parents, then no comma is used after Sophie. If the dedication were meant for her parents, for Sophie, and for Andrew (three sets of people), then another comma after Sophie would be needed to avoid ambiguity.

Example: They took in Maddie, a student, and a puppy.

Do we mean two beings: a student named Maddie and a puppy? If so, we should rewrite the sentence for clarity.

Example: They took in a student named Maddie and a puppy. OR They took in Maddie, a student, as well as a puppy.

If we mean three beings, then we should also rewrite the sentence for clarification.

Example: They took in Maddie plus a student and a puppy. OR They took in Maddie as well as a student and a puppy.

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Posted on Saturday, August 9, 2008, at 7:59 pm


Connecting Sentences with Commas and Semicolons

Many of you have been asking for help with punctuating between clauses and phrases within sentences. You want to know when you should use a comma and when you need a semicolon. Here are a few rules with examples that I hope you find very helpful.

Commas

Rule: Use a comma between two independent clauses when conjunctions such as and, or, but, for, nor connect them.

Example: I have painted the entire house, but she is still working on sanding the floors.

Rule: If the clauses are short (your call), then leave out the comma.

Example: I painted and he sanded.

Rule: If you have only one clause (one subject and verb pair), you generally won’t need a comma in front of the conjunction.

Example: I have painted the house but still need to sand the floors.
This sentence has two verbs but only one subject, so it has only one clause.

 

Semicolons

So when does the semicolon get to have its time in the spotlight?

Rule: Use the semicolon if you have two independent clauses you are connecting without a conjunction.

Example: I have painted the house; I still need to sand the floors.

Rule: Also, use the semicolon when you have commas for smaller separations, and you need the semicolon to show a bigger separation.

Example: We had a reunion with family from Salt Lake City, Utah; Los Angeles, California; and Albany, New York.

 

Pop Quiz
Select the correctly punctuated sentence.

1a. I attend the fashion shows and my husband goes to the jazz clubs.
1b. I attend the fashion shows, and my husband goes to the jazz clubs.
1c. I attend the fashion shows; and my husband goes to the jazz clubs.

2a. I love fashion and he loves jazz.
2b. I love fashion, and he loves jazz.
2c. I love fashion; and he loves jazz.

3a. I attend the fashion shows but not the jazz clubs.
3b. I attend the fashion shows, but not the jazz clubs.
3c. I attend the fashion shows; but not the jazz clubs.

4a. I attend the fashion shows my husband goes to the jazz clubs.
4b. I attend the fashion shows, my husband goes to the jazz clubs.
4c. I attend the fashion shows; my husband goes to the jazz clubs.

5a. I buy cheese, milk, and eggs at my neighborhood market apples, oranges, and grapes from the farmers’ market and aspirin, shaving cream, and deodorant from the pharmacy.
5b. I buy cheese, milk, and eggs at my neighborhood market, apples, oranges, and grapes from the farmers’ market, and aspirin, shaving cream, and deodorant from the pharmacy.
5c. I buy cheese, milk, and eggs at my neighborhood market; apples, oranges, and grapes from the farmers’ market; and aspirin, shaving cream, and deodorant from the pharmacy.

 

Pop Quiz Answers

1b. I attend the fashion shows, and my husband goes to the jazz clubs.

2a. I love fashion and he loves jazz.

3a. I attend the fashion shows but not the jazz clubs.

4c. I attend the fashion shows; my husband goes to the jazz clubs.

5c. I buy cheese, milk, and eggs at my neighborhood market; apples, oranges, and grapes from the farmers’ market; and aspirin, shaving cream, and deodorant from the pharmacy.

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Posted on Saturday, January 5, 2008, at 9:30 pm


Capitalization After Colons

Have you run across the situation where one sentence ending with a colon is followed by another sentence? Do you capitalize the first word of that second sentence? Why would you use a colon between the two sentences rather than a period or a semicolon?

Rule for colons between sentences: Use a colon instead of a semicolon or a period between two sentences when the second sentence explains or illustrates something in the first sentence.

Capitalization rule with sentences after colons: If only one sentence follows the colon, it is often not necessary to capitalize the first word of the new sentence. If two or more sentences follow the colon, capitalize the first word of each sentence following.

Examples:
One of my favorite novels is by Kurt Vonnegut: his novel Slaughterhouse-Five is often funny yet packs an emotional punch.

Garlic is used generously in Italian dishes: It greatly enhances the flavor of pasta. Garlic also enhances the flavor of lasagna, one of my favorite dishes.
Now, should you capitalize the first word after a colon if it begins a list rather than a new sentence?

Rule: Do not capitalize the first word of a list after a colon.

Example: I like the following Italian dishes: pasta primavera, eggplant parmesan, and lasagna.

Pop Quiz
Add or remove capitalization as needed.
1. Please visit me at my newly remodeled store: Skylights and large glass windows have been added.
2. Please visit me at my newly remodeled store: skylights and large glass windows have been added. You will also find more inventory and friendly sales help.
3. I need the following items from the store: Bread, salt, and sugar.

Pop Quiz Answers

1. Please visit me at my newly remodeled store: skylights and large glass windows have been added.
2. Please visit me at my newly remodeled store: Skylights and large glass windows have been added. You will also find more inventory and friendly sales help.
3. I need the following items from the store: bread, salt, and sugar.

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Posted on Monday, September 10, 2007, at 6:46 pm