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The Writer’s Reference Book


Module 13 – Problems with the Comma – Hint Sheet

Compound sentences, but not compound elements, are separated by commas:

  • Compound sentence: Mother left early, but Father stayed.
  • Compound element: Mother and Father left the party early.

Items in a series are separated by commas. It is now common to use a comma before the conjunction: Erma bought apples, pears, and oranges at the store.

Long introductory phrases or clauses that begin the sentence are followed by commas: At the crack of dawn, the enemy attacked. (phrase)

  • When I play chess, I play to win. (clause)

Interrupters (however, in fact, on the other hand, nevertheless, etc.) are surrounded by commas: We knew, however, that our project would be difficult.

Appositives (a word or phrase that follows a noun and renames it) are surrounded by commas: Henry Ford, a financial wizard, sensed the public's needs.

Additional Information about a noun that has clearly been identified is surrounded by commas:

  • Additional information (use commas):
    • Jill, who was elected class president, is presiding at the next meeting. (additional)
  • Essential information (no commas):
    • The student who was elected class president is presiding at the next meeting. (essential information to identify which student we are talking about)
    • Additional information is often called nonrestrictive, and essential information is called restrictive.

Absolute phrases are separated from the sentence by commas since they have no grammatical function in the sentence.

  • We returned to our homes, the game being over.
  • Having returned to their homes, the residents celebrated.

States and Years are separated from the rest of the sentence by commas:

  • I traveled to Helena, Montana, last summer.
  • September 11, 2001, is a date that I will always remember.

Addresses use commas to separate the information (except between the state & ZIP code):

  • Mark lives at 112 Main, Belleville, Illinois 62220.

Quotations use commas:

  • She replied, “I do not care for your attitude.”
  • “Come in,” she said. “I’ve been expecting you.” (2 sentences, so a period is used)
  • “Come in,” she said, "and join the group.” (1 sentence)
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