Misuse, overuse, don’t know when to use?
If you fall into one of the above categories, this section will hopefully guide you on when to inset that little dot with the tail.
- To separate the elements in a list of three or more items.
When you need to list details or items in a sentence you should separate each with a comma.
For example: The shop stall was covered in strange potions, unusually coloured rocks, boxes of various shapes and sizes and wands of untold magical powers.
- Before certain conjunctions.
When you need to separate two independent clauses in a sentence, you should use a comma. Add a comma before these conjunctions: and, but, for, nor, yet, or, so. They are called co-ordinating conjunctions. A common mistake is to add a comma after the conjunction i.e. “but,”
For Example: He had been practicing magic for a number or years, but he could never get that spell right.
It is not usually necessary to add a comma with the “because” conjunction. However, there are circumstances when it should be used to avoid confusing the meaning of the sentence.
For Example: The Warrior’s strength had started to fade, because the hero had fought many warriors and had seen this happen before.
In this example the reason for the warrior’s strength is nothing to do with the hero’s experience but this may be inferred if we removed the comma.
- To separate introductory elements in a sentence.
Use a comma to separate introductory elements in a sentence from the main part of the sentence.
For Example: It was an unusually quiet night, the villagers were afraid to leave their homes.
If the introductory element is less than three words it is permissible to omit the comma, unless doing so would confuse the meaning.
For Example: In the winter storms make it is difficult to see.
In the winter, storms make it difficult to see.
- To separate parenthetical elements in a sentence.
A comma should also be used to set off parenthetical elements in a sentence. The parenthetical element (also known as an aside) is part of the sentence that can be removed without changing the essential meaning of the sentence.
For Example: Jason, who was new to this land, was the prophesised hero.
If you do decide to do this, then it is important that the aside is opened and closed with a comma.
- To separate direct speech or quoted elements from the rest of the sentence.
When writing dialogue, commas can be used to separate direct speech from the rest of the sentence.
For Example: “Run,” she screamed, “the beast is chasing us!”
Remember that if the two pieces of dialogue are separate sentences then a full stop will be required. A comma alone would not be sufficient.
For Example: “I read the book from cover to cover,” He said. “Where can I find another?”
- Commas are used to separate elements in a sentence that express contrast.
For example: He was powerful, not fast.
The Castle was enormous, but hideous.
- Commas are used for typographical reasons to separate dates and years, towns and counties etc.
For Example: They set off for the mountain, in the north.
He was born on September 10, 1612
- Commas are used to separate several adjectives.
For Example: The dark, damp, mysterious cave was the starting point of their journey.
As a general rule, if you can put the word ‘and’ or ‘or’ between the adjectives, then you should use the comma. If you cannot, the comma should leave that comma out.