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Commas – definition
Commas are used to show slight pauses in a sentence.
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.
The comma is used to separate words, clauses, or phrases in a sentence.
It is used to help clarify the sense of statements and to prevent ambiguity.
It is also used to separate the items in lists.
NB! Use commas to clarify meaning. Don’t scatter them around like confetti.
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.
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.
It is used to separate a sequence of adjectives which qualify a noun:
He was an arrogant, pompous fellow.
However, when the adjectives are of a different order or type, no comma is necessary:
He was a distinguished foreign visitor.
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.
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.
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.
© Roy Johnson 2003