Commas Made Simple

Commas Made Simple

(Click here to download a free printable copy of this handout.)

You need only three rules for most of the commas in the sentences you write. Easy! Read over this handout every day until you feel confident using commas. (It won’t take long!) 

Comma Rule 1

Use a comma when a sentence begins with an extra idea.

Because my grandmother has a swimming pool, I have always enjoyed swimming.

If an extra idea appears at the back of the sentence, do not use a comma:

I have always enjoyed swimming because my grandmother has a swimming pool. NO COMMA

Study these examples:

Although I enjoy swimming, I never learned how to water-ski.

I never learned how to water-ski although I enjoy swimming.  NO COMMA

When I approached the house, I saw an elderly man peering out the window.

I saw an elderly man peering out the window when I approached the house.  NO COMMA

This handy rule covers subordinate clauses (word groups beginning with subordinate conjunctions such as if, when, because, although) as well as prepositional phrases (word groups beginning with prepositions such as of, in, by, for, with, to).

You can also state the rule this way: Use a comma any time a sentence begins with an introduction. It’s the same rule. Here’s an example:

For your information, this parking lot is for physicians only.

Comma Rule 2

Use a comma with a coordinating conjunction (a FANBOYS word) when there’s a sentence in front and in back. And and but are the most important coordinate conjunctions. Study these examples:

I enjoyed the movie, and I want to see it again.

I enjoyed the movie and want to see it again.  NO COMMA

The storm raged but didn’t spoil our fun.  NO COMMA

The storm raged, but it didn’t spoil our fun.

FANBOYS words:  For And Nor But Or Yet So

Comma Rule 3

Use two commas with an interrupter (a group of words with a voice change).

Read the examples below, and notice that your voice drops when you come to the words in boldface. “Who” and “which” are typical interrupter words.

Bart Simpson, who often makes rude remarks to his parents, is not a good role model for children.

Superman, disguised as Clark Kent, fights a never-ending battle for the American way.

Other Tips

-Never use a comma directly after a subordinate or coordinate conjunction.  Study the examples above to see where commas are placed. It’s common (and wrong!) to see a comma placed after although. Don’t do it!

-The seven coordinate conjunctions (FANBOYS words) are the only words that can be used with a comma to join two sentences.  Use periods  with other words:

Bill washed his car. Then he waxed it.

The job I want pays well. Therefore, I expect a lot of competition.

I hoped to go to Europe this summer. However, I don’t have enough money.

If you want to get fancy, you can use a semicolon instead of a period. Remember that you never have to use a semicolon: A period is always correct.

Bill washed his car; then he waxed it.

The job I want pays well; therefore, I expect a lot of competition.

I hoped to go to Europe this summer; however, I don’t have enough money.

You can view videos about commas by clicking on these links: Comma Rules 1 and 2;  Comma Rule 3.

Click here to download a free, printable copy of this handout.

© 2007 by Jean Reynolds

4 thoughts on “Commas Made Simple

  1. Allex Kramer

    I have always been confused with “even though” and “although”.

    For example, does a comma ever come before them? I have heard it go both ways. For example,
    “I like apples, although I don’t like oranges.”
    Can that be correct?
    Basically, I have heard of although having different meanings; “despite the fact…” and “but…”

  2. ballroomdancer Post author

    Although is a Comma Rule 1 word. The basic rule is that anything that starts with although is an extra idea, not a sentence. It has to be added to a sentence (like adding a garage to a house). In your example, the extra idea is “although I don’t like oranges.” The real sentence is “I like apples.”

    Although I don’t like oranges, I like apples. CORRECT (extra idea in front with a comma)
    I like apples although I don’t like oranges. CORRECT (extra idea in back without a comma)

    If the extra idea “although I don’t like apples” is in the front, use a comma. That comma tells your readers that the real sentence is coming: “I like apples.”

    If you put your extra idea at the back, don’t use a comma: “I like apples although I don’t like oranges.”

    But there’s a sneaky exception. If you change your voice, you can use the comma: “I like apples, although I don’t like oranges.”

    There are only three comma rules – Comma Rule 1 (the rule for “although”), Comma Rule 2 (the rule for and/but), and Comma Rule 3 (the rule for changing your voice). I hope you’ve downloaded the Commas Made Simple handout. Read it every day, and you’ll soon master all three rules.

    The basic meaning of although is very similar to “despite the fact” and “but.” Don’t tie yourself up in knots about it! I can tell from your questions that you write very well. You don’t need to worry about what “although” means. You probably learned that by the time you were six. Trust what you already know!

    Thanks for writing, Allex – your question is an interesting one, and I enjoyed answering it. Write me back if anything isn’t clear!

  3. Kez

    Jean, absolutely adore your predominantly ‘how’ focused approach to using commas.

    The ‘why’ based approach confuses me because of the need to grasp the language used to explain the rules. I would be no more successful if I were to attempt to hold onto a well-greased snake.

    Will be exploring your other articles as time permits.

    Thank you for your work, greatly appreciate both it and you.

    Kind regards,

    Kez.

  4. ballroomdancer Post author

    I love your image of a “well-greased snake”! Thanks so much for the feedback. Traditional grammar gobbledygook always frustrated and confused me. I’m so glad you’re finding my explanations helpful!

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