Commas with “And”

I hear more questions about and than any other word! Commas – when to use one, and when to leave it out – are probably the biggest issue. So in today’s post I’m going to give you a simple tool for getting that comma right every time you use and.

(I need to add that there’s some wiggle room here. I’m still going to recommend my system because it completely eliminates the guesswork. I also need to tell you that I’m not talking about using commas in a list – the Oxford comma – today.)

Here’s a partial sentence about a picnic for you to think about:

We roasted marshmallows and a squirrel

Pretty nasty picnic! Now read this version:

We roasted marshmallows, and a squirrel

You knew right away that the squirrel came to no harm..even though the only difference is a comma! Amazing, isn’t it?

Many people swear that they’re hopelessly confused about commas…but anyone who reads these two squirrel examples can instantly tell you that the squirrel in the second version is safe. Here’s how you might finish the sentence:

We roasted marshmallows, and a squirrel grabbed one.

Ah, the power of the comma! You already know how to use it. Yet many students are never exposed to the simple rule behind today’s examples: Use a comma when you join two sentences with and. (But works the same way, incidentally.)

Let’s look at another example. The only difference between the partial sentences below is a comma. Which sentence tells you that Betty was invited to the party?

We invited everyone to the party but Betty

We invited everyone to the party, but Betty

I’m willing to bet the farm that you knew right away that poor Betty was not invited in the first example. In the second example, she received an invitation but couldn’t come.

In traditional grammatical terms, you should use a comma whenever you use a coordinating conjunction to join two sentences. (Those are the FANBOYS words: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so.) 

In simpler terms, use a comma when you join two sentences with and or but. (The other FANBOYS words don’t come up very often.)

One more tip: Never put a comma after and or but. Notice the comma placement:

We invited everyone to the party, but Betty had to work Friday night.

You can download and print a free handout about commas at http://bit.ly/EasyCommas.

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2 thoughts on “Commas with “And”

  1. Darrell Turner

    Good suggestions, Jean. I find in teaching students about the need for commas with coordinating conjunctions that they sometimes thing the comma goes after, rather than before, the conjunction. Others think that the FANBOYS words need to be preceded by commas all the time. I often use sentences such as “We had macaroni and cheese for lunch” and “We were tired but hungry” as examples of situations when FANBOYS do not need to be accompanied by commas.

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