Commas – how to use them

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Commas – definition

commas Commas are used to show slight pauses in a sentence.

redbtn Commas are the lightest marks of punctuation.


He will never do it, whatever he says.
She bought some butter, a pint of milk, and some jam.
Cars should turn left here, whilst vans should turn right.


redbtn The comma is used to separate words, clauses, or phrases in a

redbtn It is used to help clarify the sense of statements and to prevent ambiguity.
redbtn It is also used to separate the items in lists.

redbtn NB! Use commas to clarify meaning. Don’t scatter them around like confetti.

redbtn The comma is used to separate two clauses when the first is not closely associated with the second:

She is a famous singer, whilst her husband remains unknown.

redbtn It is used to introduce a pause where the eye might otherwise continue and mistake the sense of what is written:

In the valley below, the villages looked small.

redbtn It is used to separate a sequence of adjectives which qualify a noun:

He was an arrogant, pompous fellow.

redbtn However, when the adjectives are of a different order or type, no comma is necessary:

He was a distinguished foreign visitor.

redbtn The comma is used to mark the start and finish of a parenthetical phrase within a sentence:

I am quite sure, despite my reservations, that he’s the best man for the job.

redbtn A very common use for the comma is to separate the items in a list:

The box contained a book, some pencils, and a knife.

redbtn Opinions differ on the need for the final comma in such examples. If the items are all of the same kind, it can usually be omitted. If they are not, it is usually safer to retain the comma.

Self-assessment quiz follows …

© Roy Johnson 2003

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