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Using commas

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Tutor: Jonathan


Using commas

​​In a nutshell

A comma is a punctuation mark that helps you make sentences less cluttered and easier to read. They do a number of jobs to make this happen. Commas can be used to separate items in a list, to separate coordinate adjectives, to separate clauses and lastly to punctuate direct speech. 

Commas and lists

Commas can be used when you want to separate items in a list. You can do this by simply using a comma after each item.


I have apples, oranges, pears and bananas in my fruit bowl.

Commas and adjectives

You can also use commas to separate coordinate adjectives. Coordinate adjectives are two or more adjectives of equal rank that modify the same noun. As a result of this, the order of the adjectives is not that important. 


I bought a black, shiny bicycle

This can also be written as: 

I bought a shiny, black bicycle

Note: when multiple (three or more) adjectives are used before a noun, then there is an order in which to write the adjectives, but don't worry about that now.

Commas and clauses

Subordinate clause

Before going into how commas are used to separate clauses, it's important to understand what a subordinate clause is. A subordinate clause is a clause that cannot stand alone as a complete sentence, it only adds additional information to the main clause. 

In the example below, the subordinate clause is highlighted blue (note how the clause cannot be a sentence by itself).


If I can find my wallet, we can all go out for milkshakes.

We can all go out for milkshakes if I can find my wallet.

In most cases, when the subordinate clause is at the beginning of a sentence, a comma is placed after it. When the subordinate clause is at the end of a sentence, then there is no comma.

Main clauses and coordinating conjunctions

When a main clause is joined by a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so), you will also need to place a comma before the conjunction.


I played with my cat, and Zoey played with her dog.

Commas and direct speech

Direct speech

In case you forgot, direct speech is a report of the exact words used by a speaker or writer. These words are placed in between quotation marks ("..."). 

A comma is placed before introducing the speech.


The man said, "What a beautiful day."

Take note, if the sentence carries on after the speech, another comma should be used before the last set of quotation marks (unless the speech ends with a question mark or exclamation mark, in which case no comma is used).


The man said, "What a beautiful day," and walked to the park.

The man shouted, "Help!" and ran towards the police station.

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FAQs - Frequently Asked Questions

What is a comma?

What is a subordinate clause?

Where do I place the comma in a sentence with a subordinate clause?

How do I use commas in sentences with coordinating conjunctions?

Where are commas used in direct speech?


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