The English House of Commas This set of slides will illustrate the most common uses of one of the most common punctuation marks:
Use a comma to set off the elements of a series (three or more things), including the last two. My favorite uses of the Internet are sending e-mail, surfing the Web, and using chat rooms. You may have learned that this comma is not necessary. Sometimes, however, the last two items in your series will flow into one if you dont use the serial comma.serial comma The English House of Commas
Use a comma and a coordinating conjunction (fanboys = for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) to connect two independent clauses.independent clauses A lot of students speak English pretty well, but writing is a skill that many have problems with because they dont practice. If the two independent clauses are brief and nicely balanced, this comma may be omitted, but the comma is always correct. Your speaking is OK but your writing isnt. The English House of Commas
Use a comma to set off introductory elements. Because he doesnt write English well, he wasnt able to get the internship he had hoped for. If the introductory element is brief and the sentence can be read easily without the comma, it can be omitted. On Monday well review for the exam. The English House of Commas Although she said she had written the essay herself, the teacher found the same text on the Internet and saw she had plagiarized it.
Use a comma to separate coordinate adjectives.coordinate adjectives Teachers grew weary of working in the drafty, dreary, dilapidated computer room. If you could put a but or an and between the adjectives, you should put a comma between them. expensive and modern = expensive, modern.... But not a slow and old laptop. A slow old laptop would be correct. The English House of Commas The plans for an expensive, modern computer center should make them happy.
Use a comma to set off elements that express a contrast or a turn in the sentence. The essay was interesting, but too long for the assignment. The English House of Commas The teacher wanted something original, not from the Internet.
Use a comma to set off states and countries, years (in a full date), titles, etc. The conference was originally set for Geneva, Switzerland, but was then rescheduled for Chicago, Illinois. The English House of Commas The seminar was scheduled for August 5, 2011, in the college auditorium in Newton, Massachusetts. Joe Greenman, an English teacher in Berlin, has three cats.
Use a comma to set off quoted language.quoted language The helpful teacher explained, Please remember to use your spelling checker before you send me your homework. The English House of Commas I always use it, said the best student. I tried to install one, said a student, but I use Linux, and I couldn t find one that works on my computer.
Use a comma to set off parenthetical elements. This is the most difficult rule in comma usage.parenthetical elements A parenthetical element is added information, something that can be removed from a sentence without changing the essential meaning of that sentence. Deciding what is added information and what is essential is sometimes difficult. See the next slide. The English House of Commas
Parenthetical elements: Learning comma usage in English, a relatively boring topic, is helpful in producing clear texts. The English House of Commas Frankly, it doesnt seem to matter to some people. When an appositive phrase can be removed from a sentence without changing its meaning or making it ambiguous:appositive phrase An absolute phrase is treated as a parenthetical element:absolute phrase An addressed persons (or peoples) name is always parenthetical:addressed persons (or peoples) name I understand that, dear students, but proper comma usage really helps make your writing clearer.
Another parenthetical element: Excuse me, but there are, of course, many people who have other exams on that day. Cant we reschedule the midterm, please? The English House of Commas An interjection is treated as a parenthetical element:
The English House of Commas One of the most important aspects of the parenthetical element discussion is the difference between which and that. -> The book, which I bought yesterday, is interesting. The basic sentence is The book is interesting. The extra (parenthetical) information which I bought yesterday is not essential to understand what the writer means. -> The book that I bought yesterday is interesting. In this sentence the writer makes it clear that a specific book is interesting. A good explanation of this in German can be found here.here If you distinguish between which and that consistently in your writing (especially technical writing), it helps readers understand what is essential for them to know and what isnt.
The English House of Commas A special note for people who know German! The structure subject + verb + comma + Nebensatz, which is very common in German, doesnt exist in English. Er sagte, dass … -> He said that (no comma!) Sie meinte, dass … -> She thought that (no comma!) Wir hoffen, dass … -> We hope that (no comma!) Es ist zu erwarten, dass … -> It can be expected that (no comma!)
One last rule: Dont over-use commas! When a comma is needed, use it; otherwise, do without. Reviewing the rules of comma usage will help you understand the way sentences are built and that, ultimately, will help you become a better writer.the rules of comma usage The English House of Commas