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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.

 

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


10 Comments

10 Responses to “Commas, Part 1”

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you so much for the information on the comma, a little punctuation mark that is so useful and so much abused!

    While I agree with your punctuation of the Rule 1 examples, I disagree with the rationale for including the final comma in the sequence. If the sentence were intended to mean that toast and chocolate comprised a single item, you would need another ‘and’: John likes to eat a hearty breakfast of pancakes, sausage, and toast and chocolate! Do you agree?

    Also, the commonest mistake I come across is one that is hard to explain, as in: You may enter, however, you may not be able to leave. I’d love to see that clearly explained.

    • Jane says:

      The comma before and in a series is sometimes called the Oxford comma and I’m sure you could find plenty of articles written about it on the internet. I agree with you on how the sentence should be written if we really intended toast and chocolate to be a single item. Really, the rationale is simply for ease of reading and eliminating any potential misunderstandings.

      The punctuation for the second sentence is covered on the GrammarBook.com website and in the book in Rule 2 of the chapter on Semicolons, where it says:

      Rule 2
      It is preferable to use a semicolon before introductory words such as namely, however, therefore, that is, i.e., for example, e.g., or for instance when they introduce a complete sentence. It is also preferable to use a comma after the introductory word.

      Therefore, your sentence should be “You may enter; however, you may not be able to leave.”

  2. Alice D. says:

    Thanks for the comma lesson…can’t wait for part 2 (and 3, 4?). After all, as the t-shirt I recently saw in a catalogue proclaims: “Let’s eat Grandma.” and “Let’s eat, Grandma.” Commas save lives.

  3. Jaime says:

    I am having a hard time about this comma thing. Please help enlighten me if a comma is required in this example:

    NESMA TRADING CO., LTD ( is a comma required after the period in the word “CO.”?

    Thank you very much!

    • Jane says:

      The Chicago Manual of Style’s rule 6.48 says, “Commas are not required around Inc., Ltd., and such as part of a company’s name. A particular company may use such commas in its corporate documentation; articles and books about such companies, however, should generally opt for a consistent style rather than make exceptions for particular cases.” Also, there is no reason to write the name in all caps style.

      Nesma Trading Co. Ltd.

  4. Randy C. says:

    I hope you can answer a question from me about using a comma before and. It’s confusing for me. Doesn’t and take the place of a comma in most situations? I see commas used a lot after before and. Would I be correct if I just adopt the general rule of forgoing the use of a comma when I use and to seperate the last word in a list? He wore bright pants, a red tie and a green belt.

    • Jane says:

      Rule 1 of “Commas” on my website GrammarBook.com reads “To avoid confusion, use commas to separate words and word groups with a series of three or more.” This is the rule normally followed in fiction and nonfiction books; however, newspapers and magazines normally drop this comma either to save space or feeling that it’s unnecessary. Whether your sentence is written “He wore bright pants, a red tie and a green belt” or “He wore bright pants, a red tie, and a green belt,” there is not likely to be any confusion about what he wore. However, consider the sentence “My estate goes to my husband, son, daughter-in-law and nephew.” Confusion could ensue as to whether the estate is to be split three ways or four ways. That’s why I recommend including the comma before and in a series.

  5. Barry U. says:

    I think I answered Question 2 of Commas Quiz 1 correctly:
    2. Choose the correct sentence.
    Correct Answer: B While you’re at the store, please pick up milk, bread, eggs, and orange juice.
    Explanation: When starting a sentence with a dependent clause, use a comma after it.

    Your Answer: A While you’re at the store, please pick up milk, bread, eggs and orange juice.

    I believe it’s unnecessary to insert a comma before “and” near the end of the sentence. And I DID use a comma after the independent clause.

    • Jane says:

      Our Rule 1 of Commas advises that we should use the comma before and (the Oxford comma) to avoid confusion. Up to now we’ve taken a pretty hard line stance on this issue. However, omitting the Oxford comma is so prevalent in newspapers and magazines anymore, that we are likely to soften our approach soon. In fact, the next edition of The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation will probably advise that you choose your own approach on this issue and simply be consistent.

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