To comma or not to comma, that is the question. Learn the answers to your comma questions in this post, which is part four of our comma frequently asked questions (FAQ).Tweet
It’s important to know how to use a comma for clear and effective writing. Keep reading for more answers to your comma usage questions in this post, which is part 4 of our frequently asked questions (FAQ) about commas. Also check out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 for more answers to your comma questions.
Why Do We Use Commas?
Commas are used to separate different parts of a sentence. When you read text that has commas, that’s usually a cue for you to slow down and add a pause. This is to make the sentence easier to understand. Khan Academy discusses several comma uses here. Commas can be used to separate items in a list or different parts of a date (such as October 24, 2021, which happens to be the day I am writing this post). Commas can also be used to separate different grammatical parts of a sentence to make the sentence easier to understand.
Basic Rules for Using Commas
To comma, or not to comma? That is a question we often ask ourselves when writing and editing. For one thing, commas are only used in the middle of sentences. You can’t start a sentence with a comma, nor should you end a sentence with a comma (though, as we discuss later on in this post, quotes within a sentence often end with a comma rather than a period).
There’s no limit to how many commas you can use in a sentence, but you also don’t want to add too many. Too many commas can start to get confusing or make sentences excessively long. What’s more, adding or deleting a comma here and there can even change the meaning of your sentence (sometimes with humorous results).
Using the Oxford Comma in Lists
A good rule of thumb for comma usage is to place a comma between more than two nouns, verbs, or adjectives that indicate discrete ideas. For example, if you are talking about three separate people — a doctor, a painter, and a comic — you would indicate that this is three people with commas.
The same rule follows for verbs, when describing three separate actions, like in the phrase, “she ran, jumped, and leapt.” This rule also applies to adjectives, as in the phrase, “they were kind, intelligent, and happy.” This type of usage is known as the “Oxford comma.” Learn more about the Oxford comma here.
Use a Comma When Addressing People Directly
When addressing people by name, make sure to use a comma before and/or after their name.
Here are some examples:
Suzie, do you think we’ll be late for the bus?
Wait, Suzie, you forgot to take home your report card!
Common Phrases Using Commas
Is it “me too” or “me, too”?
Comma or No Comma
Technically, there should be a comma in “me, too.” Yet, often, the phrase “me too,” like the phrases “you too,” “them too,” “her too,” and so on, do not take a comma.
“Thank You [Name]” versus “Thank You, [Name]”
“Thanks” or “Thank you” are always followed by a comma when thanking a person or organization specifically. In other words, a comma always separates the phrase “thank you” or “thanks” and a noun. This is because, as mentioned earlier, when we address people directly, we use a comma to separate their name from the rest of the sentence.
“Thank you, Submissions Committee.”
Using Commas with Quotation Marks
It is grammatically incorrect to end a sentence with a comma. The exception is when you are quoting someone within a sentence. If the quote is immediately followed by who said it, we use a comma, not a period.
To see an example of this rule in action, check out the following example:
“We are going to be late for school,” said Charlie.
Why do we end quotes within a sentence with a comma rather than a period? According to the MLA Style Center, this convention goes back to at least the 1800s, when it was first used to make the text look better. Read more about this convention (which is slightly different in the United States compared to the United Kingdom) here.
If the quote ends with an exclamation point or question mark, it does not need a comma.
“We are going to be late for school!” said Charlie.
“Are we going to be late for school?” said Charlie.
Learning More about Comma Usage
To learn more about various aspects of comma use, check out Purdue Online Writing Lab.
Online Games to Test Your Comma Knowledge
There are a few places on the internet where you can play games to test your comma knowledge. Here are some of our favorite comma games:
Commas Galore: In this online game modeled after Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, correctly choose the proper sentence constructions using commas.
Whatever Happened to the News?: In this interactive web game, fill in the blank spaces either with a comma, or a lowercase x (for no comma).
Series, Dates, and Cities: Fill in the missing commas in this online quiz.
Insert Commas with Rules Given: In this online game, edit a given sentence based on the rules given in the question.
Avoiding Comma Splices: In this game created by a student at Villanova University, you can click to reveal a sentence with a grammatical error, then correct it, and click to see if you got it right.
Got more questions about commas or any other comma games to suggest? Comment below!