Part II: Your Questions about Commas, Answered

By Kelly Tabbutt

drawing of a comma next to a question mark

Find answers to your questions about comma usage in this post.

A lot of people visiting our website have questions about how to use commas. This post is part two in our blog series on comma usage. Find part one here and part three here. Read on for more of the answers to your frequently asked questions about commas.

Should I use a comma when comparing two items?

Commas should not be used in statements in which you are comparing different items.

The term “than” is included in sentences to indicate a comparison between two subjects (person, place, or thing). A comma should never follow or precede the comparison term “than.”

Take, for example, the sentence “He is taller than her.” No commas are used. Same with the statement: “She is more friendly than her sister.” There are also no commas in this sentence: “They arrived later than the rest of the students.”

Should I use a comma in the abbreviated phrases “e.g.” and “i.e.”?

The short answer: yes.

To get an idea of comma usage with these phrases, check out the following example sentences:

“There are a variety of fruits at the grocery store (e.g., apricots, blueberries, and mango).”

“The United States’ race to a COVID-19 vaccine, i.e., Operation Warp Speed, took less than a year from start to finish.”

The two abbrevations, both borrowed from Latin, are commonly used in writing. The Latin phrase exemplia gratia is abbreviated “e.g.” and means “for example.” Another Latin phrase, id est, is often abbreviated as “i.e.” and means “that is.”

Abbreviated phrases such as “e.g.,” and “i.e.,”  function as an extension of one dependent clause that connects the phrase to a following dependent clause. These abbreviations are are always preceded and followed by a comma. Further, the words or phrases that follow the abbreviations “e.g.,” and “i.e.,” are followed by a comma.

The abbreviation “e.g.,” means “for example” or “such as.” It indicates that the words that follow are examples of the preceding word or phrase. Note the use of “e.g.,” in the following sentence: “The variations of the color blue, e.g., navy, periwinkle, and sapphire, were all used to add depth to the painting of the sky.”

The abbreviation “i.e.,” tells the reader that the words following this abbreviation will specify, reiterate in different words, or expand the meaning of the word preceding it. In lay terms, it stands for “that is,” or “in other words”. For example, note the use of “i.e.,” in the sentence “Pierre Harrison, i.e., the President of the Club, hosted an event on Saturday.” Note in the preceding sentence that the phrase “President of the Club” was simply another (more descriptive) way of referring to “Pierre Harrison”.

Should I use a comma inside quotation marks?

Per United States English’s conventions, commas are always contained within quotation marks. This includes quotes from speech or writing, as well as the titles of books, movies, plays, etc., that are contained within a quote. For example, note the placement of the comma in the sentence “The Broadway play, titled “A Night in Paris,” was attended by a large audience.”

Should I use a comma in question phrases?

A question tag is a word or short phrase that indicates that a statement is a question. Question tags are generally words or short phrases that function to check the validity of the statement such as, “right,” “correct,” “didn’t it,” “isn’t it,” etc. Consider the following examples:

“We’re going to the grocery store, right?”

“You made an appointment for Tuesday, didn’t you?”

Question tags change the statement from declarative (declaring something) to interrogative (asking something). When a question tag is used at the end of a sentence, a comma should set the tag off from the rest of the sentence.

Note the difference in meaning between the following sentences: “He went to the store” versus “He went to the store, right?”

The first sentence is making a declaration indicating what “he” did. The second is asking, or verifying, what “he” did. Note that a comma precedes the question tag.

Alternatively, when the question tag precedes the statement, a comma should not be used to separate the question tag from the statement. Note the difference in structure between the following sentences: “He went to the store, didn’t he?” versus “Didn’t he go to the store?”

Notice that in the second construction, the question tag is placed at the beginning of the sentence, and there is no comma separating the tag from the rest of the sentence.

Should I use a comma when directly addressing someone by name?

Commas are always used when a statement directly addresses someone. Consider the following examples:

“Darius, the phone is for you.”

“Hello, Carla!”

Note the placement of the comma to separate the name of the person being addressed from the rest of the statement.

This rule applies whether the person’s name appears at the beginning or the end of the statement. Where the name appears at the beginning of the sentence, a comma follows the name. When the name appears at the end of the sentence, a comma precedes it.

When should I use “commas” vs. “comma’s”?

The plural of the word comma, used to refer to two or more of the punctuation mark, is “commas.”

Pluralization means adding an -s to the end of something to indicate that it refers to more than one of that thing. As with all pluralization, when you are referring to more than one of something, such as multiple commas, the word does not take an apostrophe. For an example, note the lack of apostrophes in the following sentence: “There were multiple commas in the sentence.” In this case, the -s in “commas” indicates that there are multiple commas.

On the other hand, when you are referring to a characteristic or possession of something or someone, you do need to use an apostrophe before the final -s in the word. For example, note the use of an apostrophe in this sentence: “the comma’s curvature is almost artistic.” Here, the apostrophe in “comma’s” tells the reader that “curvature” is a characteristic of the comma.

More Online Resources for Comma Usage

Grammarly

You can check your grammar and spelling with the free online tool Grammarly. More specifically, Grammarly is a great resource for determining proper comma usage. Of course, you can also rely on Microsoft Word for many of your basic grammar and spelling check needs, and even a number of stylistic issues. Check out our post on Microsoft Word’s proofing tools.

However, Grammarly is, in many ways, more user-friendly and more helpful than Word. Grammarly is aesthetically designed to be easier to use, offering notifications of issues and suggestions for fixes in its right-hand panel. Beyond this, Grammarly offers additional functionality beyond Microsoft Word, allowing you to check your writing for more complex issues of clarity such as the level of reading difficulty.

Purdue Online Writing Lab

The Purdue Online Writing Lab (Purdue OWL) is another great resource for writing and stylistic rules. Purdue OWL is perhaps best known as the resource for academic research paper style guides including Chicago, MLA, APA, and ASA. Beyond style guides, Purdue OWL also offers a great guide on comma usage.

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