Rated: E · Non-fiction · Business · #2113811
The work from Lesson 2 of the Comma Sense Course.
COMMA SENSE CLASS
TO COMMA,,,,,,OR NOT TO COMMA
Commas help your reader figure out which words go together in a sentence and which parts of your sentences are most important. Using commas incorrectly may confuse the reader, signal ignorance of writing rules, or indicate carelessness. Although using commas correctly may seem mysterious, it can be easy if you follow a few guidelines.
Beware of these popular myths regarding comma usage:
MYTH: Long sentences need a comma.
A really long sentence like the one I'm writing here may be perfectly correct without commas because the length of a sentence does not determine whether you need a comma.
MYTH: You should add a comma wherever you pause.
Where you pause or breathe in a sentence does not reliably indicate where a comma belongs. Different readers pause or breathe in different places.
MYTH: Commas are so mysterious that it's impossible to figure out where they belong!
Some rules are flexible, but most of the time, commas belong in very predictable places.
RULES OF COMMA USAGE
[Scroll down to bottom of this page for list of rules and exceptions.]
Rule #8: Elements in a Series
Use a comma to separate three or more Elements in a Series.
A series is a list which includes three or more items of the same parallel structure of words, phrases, or clauses with a single conjunction joining the last element. Writers frequently err in their attempts to produce parallel structure when producing elements in a series. The items must all be equal in structure: all verbs, all verbs plus a noun, all nouns, all phrases, or all clauses. Here is an excellent link explaining how to properly construct elements in a series:
You may have learned that the comma before the and in the last element is unnecessary, which is fine if you're in control of things. However, there are situations in which, if you don't use this comma, especially when the list is complex or lengthy, the last two items in the list will try to glom together like macaroni and cheese. Using a comma between all the items in a series, including the last two, avoids this problem. This last comma—the one between the word and and the preceding word—is often called the serial comma or the Oxford comma. In newspaper writing, incidentally, you will seldom find a serial comma, but that is not necessarily a sign that it should be omitted. For the sake of consistency, in this Class, I'll ask you to always use a comma before the final conjunction in a list of three or more elements.
Examples of Elements in a Series:
My estate is to be split among McGregor, Lucy, Pancho, and Buster.
Omitting the comma after Pancho would indicate that Pancho and Buster would have to split one-third of the estate. See why that last comma is important?
The Comma Sense Class is an enlightening course, contains brilliant information, and has a unique, amusing character.
Here we have three elements describing the Comma Sense Class. Each element contains a verb and an object of that verb. So it is correct in parallel structure. We also have two Coordinate Adjectives describing the noun character in the third element. The comma between unique and amusing is because of Rule #3, not because of Rule #8.
The Presidential Candidate promised to lower taxes, protect the environment, reduce crime, and end unemployment.
The commas were carefully placed, the rules were double checked, and the assignment was posted in the forum.
All three elements in this series are independent clauses, but because they are closely related and are of the same type of clauses, and the last element is joined by a conjunction, they are considered elements in a series and not separate sentences.
The prosecutor argued that Winnie was on-line at the time of the crime, had a strong revenge motive against The Writer's Cramp Judge, and had illegal access to the Gift Points Bank.
* Bob listens to his teachers without yawning, studies his lessons, and submits his assignments on time.
INCORRECT You can use your bank account, debit, or credit cards.
This is NOT an example of elements in a series. The sentence is grammatically incorrect. This list refers to two types of financial resources: a bank account and a card (two types of which are mentioned). The sentence structure mistakenly suggests that the list consists of three elements, rather than two.
You can use your bank account or a debit or credit card.
There are actually only two elements here, so this is not an example of Rule #8.
INCORRECT Winnie was worried her lessons weren't detailed enough, confusing, and they had errors.
This is NOT an example of elements in a series. The sentence is grammatically incorrect. The items are not of the same parallel structure of words, phrases, or clauses. The first element is a phrase. The second is just one word. The third element is a clause.
Winnie was worried her lessons weren't detailed enough, were confusing, and had errors.
Now you have three element, all of which contain a verb phrase. They are all of the same parallel structure.
Exception #8x: Conjunctions Separating EACH Element
When a coordinating conjunction like and is used to separate each element in a series, no comma is used before the conjunctions unless the elements are clauses in which case Rule #1 would apply.
Examples of Conjunctions Separating Each Element:
Winnie is proud of her students because they are enthusiastic and smart and humorous.
No commas are used between the elements because and separates each element.
Pat can't remember where she put her keys or where she parked her car or if she even drove her car to the mall.
Betty received a perfect score for her grammar and style, and comma-usage.
Ah, what happened here? Sometimes a comma is used to separate only two elements in a series where confusion would arise without the comma. Here we only have two elements in a series, but we need a comma because the first element contains two items. Betty was graded on grammar and style (that's one category), and comma-usage (that's one category). Without the comma between style and and, the reader would think there were three separate grading categories.
Proper comma placement is difficult to learn, and there are many rules and exceptions to study, and you may be tempted to run away and hide, but you don't have to be afraid.
Uh oh, what happened here? There are commas placed before the coordinating conjunctions which separate each element. Well, that's because these are not Elements in a Series. They are independent clauses, and a comma is needed before the coordinating conjunctions because Rule #1 applies.
Rule #9: Introductory Phrases
Use a comma after an Introductory Phrase.
Much like Rule #2 (Introductory Adverbial Clauses) in Lesson #1, Introductory Phrases also set the stage for the main action of the sentence, and they need a comma after them, but they are not Independent Clauses, and they do not necessarily begin with a Subordinate Conjunction as does the Introductory Adverbial Clause. Like an Introductory Adverbial Clause, an Introductory Phrase does not necessarily begin a sentence. It introduces an independent clause, so it can appear in the middle of a sentence, and a comma should follow it. But unlike an Introductory Adverbial Clause, when you drop the beginning word of an Introductory Phrase, you do not have an independent clause, a complete sentence which can stand alone.
The difference between phrases and clauses is phrases don't have both a subject and a verb like a clause does. Phrases cannot stand alone as a separate sentence. Common Introductory Phrases include Prepositional Phrases, Appositive Phrases, Participial Phrases, Adverbial Phrases, Infinitive Phrases, Noun Phrases, and Absolute Phrases. As we proceed deeper into the subsequent Lessons, many of these specific types of phrases will claim their own unique Rule Number.
Examples of Introductory Phrases:
Although tired and hungry, Winnie continued to grade her students' papers.
Although tired and hungry is NOT an Introductory Adverbial Clause. If you drop the subordinating conjunction although which begins the phrase, you are left with tired and hungry which is not an independent clause. It can't stand alone as a separate sentence. It is a phrase.
Tired, Winnie continued to grade her students' papers.
Rule #9 also applies when the introduction is a single participle, like in this sentence.
Meowing insistently, Lucy finally got her ears scratched.
Proper comma placement can be confusing, but by the end of this course, you will all be experts.
There is an Introductory Phrase in the middle of this sentence, and a comma needs to follow it.
As a popular and well respected member of Writing.com, Lyle will be missed.
The wind blowing violently, the commas began to seek shelter.
This Introductory Phrase is called an Absolute Phrase which we will learn about in Lesson #3.
Speaking of teaching this comma class, when do I get a raise?
After hearing that there would be no increase in Social Security Benefits this year, Winnie will have to sell a kidney to pay her property taxes.
Exception #9x: Short Introductory Prepositional Phrases
No comma is necessary if the Introductory Phrase is a Prepositional Phrase (starting with a preposition like after, besides, in, for, of, on, since, until, upon, with, and many more), and the Prepositional Phrase is quite short (five or less words), and the meaning is clear without the comma. It's not wrong to use a comma after these short Prepositional Phrases, but it is not necessary. This exception ONLY applies to Introductory Prepositional Phrases. For more information on Prepositions, go to:
Examples of Short Introductory Prepositional Phrases:
* Once upon a time there was a lonely comma in a dark forest.
Just take note that the word once is not a preposition. It is an adverb. But upon is a preposition. Joined together, they form what's called an adverbial prepositional phrase, and since the introductory phrase is short, no comma is necessary.
After the storm Buster tracked mud into the house.
Besides having insomnia Winnie has nightmares about commas.
With clouds approaching, Pancho must run for cover.
Notice that comma after the Short Introductory Prepositional Phrase? Well, you need to remember the fact that only if the meaning of the sentence is clear, are you allowed to omit the comma after a Short Introductory Prepositional Phrase. If the comma was left out in this sentence, it would confuse the reader.
A sentence may contain several Introductory Adverbial Clauses (Rule #2) and Introductory Phrases (Rule #9). Take a look at this complex sentence:
By the end of the Comma Sense Class, after the students have learned all thirty rules, as they begin to utilize their new-found knowledge of proper comma-placement, feeling confident and courageous, the Comma Sense students declare Winnie the Comma Queen of the Universe.
Rule #10: Ending Participial Phrases
Do NOT use a comma before an Ending Participial Phrase that modifies the word it immediately follows.
Participial Phrases always function as adjectives adding description to the sentence. They always begin with a verbal called a participle. These are words usually end in ing or ed—but not always. When a Participial Phrase begins a sentence, it follows Rule #9 and a comma follows it. When a Participial Phrase ends a sentence, no comma is used before it IF THE PARTICIPIAL PHRASE IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWS THE WORD OR CLAUSE IT MODIFIES.
Here is a great link explaining Participles and Participial Phrases and their commas:
Examples of Ending Participial Phrases Immediately Next To the Word They Modify:
The local residents often saw Danny happily wandering through Barnes and Noble.
The Ending Participial Phrase modifies Danny, not the residents. Danny is doing the happy wandering. No comma is used. Notice the adverb happily precedes the Ending Participial Phrase. The adverb is part of the phrase.
Tom nervously watched the woman dressed in black.
The Ending Participial Phrase modifies the woman, not Tom. The woman is dressed in black. No comma is used.
Cindy saw the monkey swinging from the trees.
The Ending Participial Phrase modifies the monkey, not Cindy. The monkey is swinging. No comma is used.
Bob hit the man waving a gun.
The Ending Participial Phrase modifies the man, not Bob. The man is doing the waving. No comma is used.
Some Ending Participial Phrases modify a whole clause. No comma is used in this situation.
* An interesting book was once written explaining the natural habitat of the endangered Comma.
The Ending Participial Phrase modifies the whole clause before it. The once written book is doing the explaining. No comma is used.
Exception #10x: Ending Participial Phrases NOT Immediately Next To the Word They Modify
Yes, there is an exception here. It is always better for clarity to put the Ending Participial Phrase right next to the word it modifies. This eliminates the possibility of creating the dreaded Dangling Participial Phrase. But it is sometimes awkward to construct such a sentence. Soooo if the Ending Participial Phrase modifies an EARLIER WORD IN THE SENTENCE, a comma MUST be used.
Examples of Ending Participial Phrases Not Immediately Next To the Word They Modify:
The local residents often saw Danny, happily wandering through Barnes and Noble.
The Ending Participial Phrase modifies the residents, not Danny. The local residents, a noun phrase located earlier in the sentence, are doing the happy wandering. A comma must be used. Notice the adverb happily precedes the Ending Participial Phrase. The adverb is part of the phrase, so the comma is placed before the adverb.
Tom nervously watched the woman, dressed in black.
The Ending Participial Phrase modifies Tom, a noun earlier in the sentence. Tom is dressed in black. A comma must be used.
Cindy saw the monkey, swinging from the trees.
The Ending Participial Phrase modifies Cindy, not the monkey. Cindy is swinging from the trees. A comma must be used.
Bob hit the man, waving a gun.
The Ending Participial Phrase modifies Bob, not the man. Bob is waving the gun. A comma must be used.
Can you see how a comma misplaced in these sentences will completely alter the meaning for the reader? This is where the power of the author is displayed with a simple comma or omission of a comma.
If the participle or participial phrase comes in the middle of a sentence, then Rules #5 or #6 apply, and it should be set off with commas only if the information is not essential to the meaning of the sentence—or there should be no commas if the participial phrase is essential to the meaning of the sentence.
Examples of Participial Phrases in the Middle of a Sentence:
Winnie, watching an old movie, drifted in and out of sleep.
The participial phrase in the middle of the sentence is non-essential, so commas are needed. Rule #5 applies here.
The Jerusalem Temple, destroyed in 70 A.D., was never rebuilt.
The participial phrase in the middle of the sentence is non-essential. We know which temple is being referred to. Commas are needed to surround the non-essential phrase. Rule #5 applies here.
The student earning the highest grade point average will receive a special award.
The participial phrase in the middle of the sentence is essential. We need to know which student is being referred to. So no commas should surround the essential phrase. Rule #6 applies here.
The man wearing the soldier's uniform is my brother.
The participial phrase is essential in knowing which man is my brother, so no commas are used. Rule #6 applies here.
Rule #11: Introductory Transitional Words
Use a comma after Introductory Transitional Words that create continuity from one sentence to the next.
To be classified as an Introductory Transitional Word or Words, the first word or words of the sentence MUST be closely tied to the previous sentence!!!
Some Introductory Transitional Words are as follows:
However In addition
Still By the way
Furthermore For example
Meanwhile In the meantime
For many, many more examples, go to
Be careful with the word although. Even though although may seem to have the same general sense as an Introductory Transitional Word, it is a subordinating conjunction and can't be used to transition from a prior sentence. When although begins a sentence, it is introducing a phrase (Rule #9) or a clause (Rule #2). When although introduces an ending adverbial clause, Exception #1xb applies, and a comma is needed before it because it is one of those exceptions to 1xb that calls for a comma, but no comma goes after it.
Although tired and hungry,  Winnie continued to grade her students' papers.
Although we are only on Lesson #2,  we have learned a lot.
He does well in English, [1xb] although he prefers math to English.
INCORRECT Although, lunch is his favorite class.
Although is not an Introductory Transitional Word. This is considered a sentence fragment. Although and a clause cannot stand alone as a complete sentence.
Examples of Introductory Transitional Words:
* The severe drought in Texas requires citizens to use more water. Consequently, the greedy water company raised their rates.
In the second sentence, consequently is an Introductory Transitional Word. It creates continuity from the first sentence. Therefore, a comma must follow it.
I can't afford to water my lawn. Therefore, the Homeowners Association fined me for having dead grass.
Buster didn't take his arthritis medicine. As a result, his hind legs hurt.
In the second sentence, as a result are Introductory Transitional Words which transition the first sentence to the second, and a comma is needed after it.
INCORRECT She loved to shop. Although, she had no money.
Although and a clause cannot stand alone as a complete sentence. It is not an Introductory Transitional Word.
Exception #11x: Coordinating Conjunctions Used as Introductory Transitional Words
Be careful here. Introductory Transitional Words are usually adverbs. But it is becoming more common and acceptable to start sentences with coordinating conjunctions (FANBOYS). If you start a transitional sentence with a Coordinating Conjunction like and, but, yet, or, nor, for, and so, you DO NOT USE A COMMA after the conjunction unless a non-essential element follows it. Also, when the Conjunctive Adverb then is used as an Introductory Transitional Word, no comma is used. We will learn more about the word then in Lesson #3.
Examples of Coordinating Conjunctions Used as Introductory Transitional Words:
Pancho is a lively rat terrier who likes to jump on my furniture. But he howls when he can't get down.
But is a Coordinating Conjunction being used in the second sentence as an Introductory Transitional Word. So no comma follows it.
Buster didn't take his arthritis medicine. So his hind legs hurt.
So is a Coordinating Conjunction being used in the second sentence as an Introductory Transitional Word. So no comma follows it.
We hoped that decorating the top of Cindy's cupcake with a dead grasshopper would freak her out. But, to our surprise, she just popped the whole thing in her mouth.
In the second sentence, but is a Coordinating Conjunction used as an Introductory Transitional Word. The comma after it is because the phrase to our surprise is a Non-Essential Element and needs to be surrounded by commas. The commas are there because of Rule #5, not because of Rule #11. Are you beginning to see how all of this stuff works together from one lesson to another? Sure, you are.
Rule #12: Interjections
Use commas to set off Interjections.
Interjections are words or phrases used to exclaim or protest. They sometimes stand by themselves, but they are often contained within the sentence, usually at the beginning. If an interjection is in the middle of a sentence, use a comma before and after it. If an interjection is at the end of a sentence, use a comma before it. They express a sentiment such as surprise, anger, disgust, sarcasm, joy, excitement, or enthusiasm. Much profanity (expletives) takes the form of interjections. Interjections are primarily utilized in dialogue within a story, displaying verbal expression and characterization. For a list of Interjections, go to:
Examples of Interjections:
Oh, I didn't know a comma went there.
Duh, you can't put that comma there.
Good grief! Didn't I tell you not to put a comma there?
Interjections can stand alone as a complete sentence.
* Eureka, you decided to put a comma there.
No, no, you can't put a comma there!
When an interjection is repeated, a comma should separate them.
You can't put a comma there, no.
When the interjection is at the end of the sentence—which is not usually done—a comma needs to go before it.
Most of the comma rules are easy to understand, but, holy smokes, those exceptions to the rules drive me crazy.
When an interjection is in the middle of a sentence, commas need to surround it. Notice that comma before the coordinating conjunction but. That's because of Rule #1.
So, you decided to put a comma there?
There IS a comma after so here because so is used in this sentence as an Interjection, not as an Introductory Transitional Word. It does not create a transition from a previous sentence. Nor is it considered a Coordinating Conjunction here, for it is not joining a phrase or a clause. In this sentence, so is simply an expression of sarcasm. Do you see how one word, like so, can be different parts of speech? How you use the word in a sentence determines whether it is a conjunction or an introductory transitional word or an interjection.
Alas, I forgot to put a comma there.
RULES OF COMMA USAGE:
Rule #1 - Independent Clauses Joined by Coordinating Conjunctions (use commas)
>>Exception #1xa: Independent Clauses Joined by So That (don't use commas)
>>Exception #1xb: Independent Clauses Joined by Subordinating Conjunctions (don't use commas-usually)
>>Exception #1xc: Short Independent Clauses Joined by Coordinating Conjunctions (don't use commas)
>>Exception #1xd: Clauses and Phrases Joined by Coordinating Conjunctions (don't use commas)
>>Exception #1xe: Clauses and Phrases Joined by Coordinating Conjunctions Expressing Extreme Contrast (use commas)
Rule #2 - Introductory Adverbial Clauses (use commas)
Rule #3 - Coordinate Adjectives (use commas)
Rule #4 - Non-Coordinate Adjectives (don't use commas)
Rule #5 - Non-Essential Elements (use commas)
Rule #6 - Essential Elements (don't use commas)
Rule #7 - Essential That Clauses (don't use commas)
Rule #8 - Elements in a Series (use commas)
>>Exception #8x: Conjunctions separating each element (don't use commas)
Rule #9 - Introductory Phrases (use commas)
>>Exception #9x: Short Introductory Prepositional Phrases (don't use commas)
Rule #10 - Ending Participial Phrases (don't use commas)
>>Exception #10x: Ending Participial Phrase not immediately next to word it modifies (use commas)
Rule #11 - Introductory Transitional Words (use commas)
>>Exception #11x: Coordinating conjunction used as an Introductory Transitional Word (don't use commas)
Rule #12 - Interjections (use commas)
Click this item for list of parts of speech list: "Parts of Speech for Comma Sense Class"
Instructor: Winnie Kay
Resource Links for this Lesson: