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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Dozen Uses for Commas, Part 1

Commas are one of the most important – as well as overused and misused – punctuation marks in English grammar. There are dozens of situations that call for commas and an equal number of situations where a comma should not be used. While the use of commas may seem confusing, understanding the actual rules around them eliminates a lot of the ambiguity and provides guidance for making the decision on how to punctuate convuluted sentences.

To start, let's look at using commas with conjunctions to join independent clauses.

Shaina talked about coordinating conjunctions and their role once before. As she mentioned, a comma should be used before a conjunction that joins two independent clauses. As with most of the English language, there are exceptions to this rule, such as when the comma is left out as a matter of style. However, while a comma may be used after "so" at the beginning of a sentence (when it is functioning as an introductory word rather than a conjunction), it is extremely rare to put a comma after coordinating conjunctions.

The following sentences are some examples of properly using commas and coordinating conjunctions:

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My headphones broke this week, but I was able to exchange them for new ones.

She ate dinner with her family and she took a walk with friends. (Because both sides of the conjunction are equal, the comma can be left off stylistically.)

And after reading through the tutorial, I decided to try it for myself.

So, I think I might try medical transcription after all. (You will need to use your judgement in situations such as these based on the tone of the speaker and the preceding sentence. If the speaker says, for example, "There is a lot of opportunity still in medical transcription. So I think I might try it after all," it's probably best to join the two sentences with a comma and not use a comma after so. However, if she's using it as an introductory word to broach the subject, you would use the comma.)

She had worked all day, so she really didn't feel like accepting additional work.

While it's important to guard against overusing commas, it's also important to guard against underusing them, which results in run-on sentences.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to comma usage, so I hope you'll stick around as we look at some of the other common uses in future posts!


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