Some tricks to understanding commas
Commas are tricky things. I've taught them for many years, and still I'm learning. I'm far from a comma guru. Believe me, but from teaching them, I was able to strip out all the nonsense and such and find eight simple rules for conquering the dreaded comma while writing.
I hope this helps! Whatever make us better writers, right? A long time ago, I saved this in a document, and whenever I'm hesitant about whether or not to use a comma, I just open it up and scan the rules. It has helped me a lot. I hope it does the same for you!
There are 8 rules to using commas.
1. Before a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) with two independent clauses
Right: He left home, and he went to work.
Before and after the conjunction can be separated into two proper sentences that can stand on their own.
Wrong: He left home, and went to work.
Wrong: He left home, he went to work.
This is called a comma splice. The comma is in place of a period and separates to complete sentences.
“Because” is not a coordinating conjunction. Do not put a comma before it.
2. Separate items in a series
The writer experimented with plot, setting, characters, and dialog.
The exception to this is if you want to show emphasis.
For finals, she studied English and Math and History.
3. To set off extra information (also known as appositives)
My best friend, Joe, is a great musician.
Joe, my best friend, is a great musician.
4. After an introductory clause
Before the movie, we eat dinner at my aunt’s house.
5. After a conjunctive adverb that follows a semi-colon
Mary went to the fanciest restaurant in town; however, the food tasted awful.
6. To separate two adjectives
Comma needed: It was a cold, windy afternoon.
He is a strong, healthy man.
Comma not needed: We stayed at an expensive summer resort.
My aunt lives in a white frame house.
If the comma can be replaced by an “and” and the sentence still make sense, the comma is needed. If the sentence does not, no comma is needed.
7. To set off elements
I was born on October 31, 1986, and I grew up in Salem, Massachusetts.
“I love you,” he said, “and I will do anything for you.”
“I love you too,” she replied.