Dr. Judith M. Newman

The Comma

The comma was designed to help readers. Without it, sentence parts collide into one another unexpectedly, causing ambiguity for the reader.

You should use a comma in the following situations:

  • Before a coordinating conjunction joining independent clauses
  • After an introductory word group
  • Between items in a series
  • Between coordinate adjectives
  • To set off a nonrestrictive element
  • To set off transitional and parenthetical expressions, absolute phrases, and contrasted elements
  • To set off nouns of direct address, the words "yes" and "no", interrogative tags, and mild interjections
  • To set off direct quotations introduced with expressions such as "he said"
  • With dates, addresses, titles

Don't use a comma:

  • Between compound elements that are not independent clauses
  • To separate a verb from its subject
  • Between cumulative adjectives
  • To set of restrictive elements
  • After a coordinating conjunction
  • After "such as" or "like"
  • Before "than"
  • Before a parenthesis
  • To set off an indirect (reported) quotation
  • With a question mark or an exclamation point

Go to The Comma for details and examples on comma usage.

Confident you can use a comma appropriately? Try this exercise.