To Comma or Not to Comma

To Comma or Not to Comma; that is the question. (Seven of the myriad guidelines.)

  1. You have a series of items:*
    1. The American Flag is red, white and blue. (No comma is necessary for the readers to understand.)
    2. The author’s books contained drama, romance, and history. (You don’t know if ALL the books contained all three; therefore, the comma is necessary for clarity.)
    3. The will said the estate is to be equally split between Martin, Pat and Susan. (This could be interpreted that Martin gets ½ and Pat and Susan split the other half.

NOTICE the word “between” – means only two parties.  “Among” means more than two; therefore, rewrite:

  1. The will said that the estate is to be equally split among the siblings, Martin, Pat, and Susan. – (No conflict.)


* Another rule recommends the comma before the “and” in a series. Be consistent in the way you use the comma in a series, and be certain there’s no confusion or misinterpretation.


  1. Comma, parenthesis or em-dash
  1. Please meet Jerry, my husband. (Equal emphasis)
  2. This is Jerry (my husband). (Parenthesis equalslesser information)
  3. Please meet Jerry – my husband. (Em-dash – more important information.)



Comma – page two

  1. Comma with appositives
  2. My friend Sarah is going to Europe. (You have more than one friend; no need for a comma. This is a restrictive)
  3. My cat, Sassy, is pregnant. (This is non-restrictive, you have only one cat; use a comma.)
  4. My computer, a new PC, is already on the blink. (This defines the computer; it’s nonrestrictive, use a comma.)


  1. Comma with “That” or “Which”
  2. The extra workbooks, which took us weeks to complete, can be given away. (“Which” is non-restrictive – an implication that the information is unimportant. It doesn’t identify the workbooks; therefore, separate with commas.)
  3. The extra workbooks that are on the back table can be given away. (That is restrictive, meaning only the workbooks on the back table should be given away; no commas necessary.)


  1. Comma with conjunctive adverbs. (also, consequently, further, furthermore, hence, however, moreover, nevertheless, otherwise, then, therefore, thus, and too. These function as conjunctions.) Use a semi-colon before and a comma after these conjunctions.
  2. The lights went out; therefore, we have to study by flashlight.
  3. Monday was a holiday; however, we went to the office anyway.
  4. Jane received the sales award; nevertheless, she was back on the phones a few hours later.

5a. A comma splice: – using a comma instead of a period or

     semi-colon; it’s wrong.

  1. She went to the meeting, however, she was 20 minutes late.
  2. I didn’t like the speaker, she was too boring.


  1. She went to the meeting; however, she was 20 minutes late.
  2. I didn’t like the speaker; she was too boring.

Comma – page three


  1. Comma and quotation marks: Periods and commas always stay inside the quotation marks.
  2. Terri’s new car, “the third child,” was his pride and joy.
  3. The team completed the sections, “Body Language, Humor, and Story,” before their presentations.


  1. Comma with a salutation

Use a comma after an informal salutation: (friends, family, equal co-worker)

  1. Dear Nanna,
  2. Hi Steve,
  3. Greetings my friend,

Use a colon after a formal salutation:

  1. Dear Colleagues:
  2. Dear Committee Members:
  3. Dear Dr. Francis:
  4. Dear Emily: (If Emily is a client, a prospect, a superior, an unknown – cover letter – a business associate.)


These are only seven of dozens of uses of the comma. The seven are the most common and most misused.


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