And is an easy word – one of the first words that you and I learned how to read when we were in the first grade. So why does and cause so many comma problems? Even some of the professional writers I know can’t remember how to use commas with and.
Much of the confusion originates with English textbooks, which make a big show of teaching the difference between compound and complex sentences. The terms are so similar that many people never really grasp the difference…and stumble through life wondering how to use commas with and.
Help is on the way!
If you join two sentences with and, use a comma. If you have one sentence with and in the middle, omit the comma.
Clouds covered the sky, and far-off thunder warned of a coming storm. TWO SENTENCES: Use a comma
Mark spotted a parking space and carefully maneuvered the car into it. ONE SENTENCE: No comma
Mark spotted a parking space, and he carefully maneuvered the car into it. TWO SENTENCES: Use a comma
Not hard, is it?
The rule (Comma Rule 2 in Commas Made Simple) has an elegant logic, when you think about it. Take a look at this example:
Linda boiled the potatoes and Dan
Linda’s not a very nice person!
But if you put a comma after “potatoes,” you know that Dan is the beginning of a new sentence:
Linda boiled the potatoes, and Dan tossed the salad. CORRECT
Here are a few additional things to know about and:
- And is a useful word, but don’t overdo it. Vary your sentences by working in other words: because, when, who, and so on.
- NEVER put a comma after and.
- In a series, you can omit the comma after the item before and. Note that book publishers generally require this comma; newspapers and magazines never use it; teachers’ preferences vary.