Comma: See how a comma can change the meaning of a sentence!

One of the most frequently used punctuation marks, a comma is so often used and so often misused. Let’s learn about it more in the section below.

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What is a Comma?

Well, we put a full stop when we end a sentence, but what do we do when we want to add a pause in our sentence? We use the comma – “,’. A pause in a sentence is when your point is not over but there is a slight change required. Let’s get into the usage of this very useful and highly misunderstood punctuation mark, comma.


Usage of Comma

1. When two separate clauses connect using conjunctions

like or, but, yet, and, so, for. Note that if they come in the same clause, there is no need to add the comma. Let’s see a few examples:

  • I was going to play the role, but she replaced me in the play.
  • We practiced day and night, yet we lost the match.
  • She scored an excellent grade, so mom took her for a party.
  • I could come to your house or, we could go to Tracy’s. (We could go to your house or Tracy’s – Note how in this sentence the clause hasn’t changed which is why there is no comma before the conjunction)

2. A comma separates different objects in the same sentence

  • Food, clothing, and shelter are the three basic human needs.
  • Our school is participating in the inter-school football, cricket and volleyball matches held at DPS.

Note: Don’t separate the subject and verb using the camera as is done often. Example – My friend Mila, is a wonderful dancer – This is an incorrect sentence. The correct way to write this is – My friend Mila is a wonderful dancer.

3. Comma after introductory clauses

If the beginning of a sentence is with an adverbial phrase, it’s often followed by a comma but it doesn’t have to be, especially if it’s short. As a thumb rule, if the phrase is longer than about four words, use the comma. You can also use a comma with a shorter phrase when you want to emphasize it or add a pause for literary effect. So, this one is more like the grammar of your choice and what sounds better.

  • Clutching her purse, Martha ran out of the cafe. Perplexed by her friend’s sudden change in mood, Bruno stayed surprised.
  • After the concert, John was signing autographs.
  • In front of the garden, there is a candy shop.
  • Without knowing the full story, she wrote the article about it.
  • In 1992, life was very different than now.
  • Suddenly, a giant crocodile appeared in the sapphire water.

Note: A sentence can be misread and the meanings can completely be changed if not for the comma. For example:

4. Comma before a question tag

This one, I’m sure, you have noticed before. A question tag is nothing but a short phrase or maybe just a single word that is added at the end of a statement to turn it into a question. Question tags are often used to encourage readers to agree with them. A question tag should be preceded by a comma, as a thumb rule.

  • The Sun rises from the East, right?
  • These quaint houses are beautiful, aren’t they?
  • Ladakh looks so wonderful, doesn’t it?

5. Commas as interrupters or for enclosing details

Sometimes thoughts intervene within a sentence and that is conveyed using a comma. These are called Interrupters. Interrupters are small thoughts that come up in the middle of a sentence to show emotion, tone, or emphasis. A phrase that adds extra information to the sentence but could be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence. These elements are used in a sentence using commas.

  • She was, apparently, the jolliest person in the room. –Notice how you can practically remove the word between the commas and the sentence can still be complete, minus a certain emotion.
  • My sister, unlike me, is very well-behaved.
  • The music, I was happy to see, was becoming more folkish in the night.

6. Commas are used in dates

There are different ways to write a date. When writing a date in month-day-year format, write the year with commas. Also, if you are referencing to a day of the week and a date, use a comma.

  • On Monday, May 16, there will be a written exam conducted for all students of grade 9 of Mount Mary’s school. Please attend the revision lectures on Friday, May 13, 2018, to get on top of all your subject knowledge studied so far.
  • August 15, 1947, was an important day in Indian history. My grandfather was born on Sunday, August 10, 1947.

7. Use commas before a making a direct quote from someone

There’s such a thing called an attributive tag which is nothing but phrases like “he said” or “she claimed”. They identify the speaker of a quote or part of someone’s dialogue. These tags can come before, after, or even in the middle of a quote. Always remember to use commas to separate attributive tags from quotations. Let’s see a few examples to understand this better:

  • “You are a big monster with black horns on your head!” my sister yelled.
  • The ambassador said, “These flowers are of top-notch quality in America.”
  • “If you know how to bake a cake,” Pranali said, “you know how to win the hearts of all human beings.”
  • “My uncle was a great warrior in the Kargil war,” my friend remarked.
  • “When you come out of the bathroom,” my mother yelled, “don’t leave the floor all wet!”

8. Comma while using the words/phrases – too, such as, as well as:

When it comes to certain connecting words, there’s a way to use a comma there as well. When there are two clauses enlisted while using the phrase “as well as”, always use a comma.

  • Butter, as well as cheese, adds intense aroma and flavor to any food item.

When we are introducing multiple things using the phrase “such as”, we use a comma.

  • Amphibians, such as frogs, snakes, and lizards hibernate for weeks together.

Well, now that you know where to use the comma, go ahead and try some examples yourself. All the best!

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