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The punctuation mark comma

Posted by Manjusha Filed in English Writing

Commas reflect pauses in speech.

A listing comma is used to separate items in a series or list. In British English, the last two items in a list are not usually separated by a comma unless these are long.

  • The Three Musketeers were Athos, Porthos and Aramis.
  • I went to China, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore.

A joining comma is used to join two complete sentences into a single sentence. It is usually followed by a connecting word like and, or, but, while or yet.

  • We can go swimming, or we could stay here.
  • I decided to come home earlier than I had planned, and the others spent the evening at the local disco.

A gapping comma is used to show that certain words have been omitted instead of repeated.

  • Jane decided to order the home-made steak pie and Alice, the duck special. (The omitted words are decided to order.)

When subordinate clauses begin sentences, they are often separated by commas.

  • After I left school, I went to London.

If words or expressions interrupt the normal progression of a sentence, we usually separate them off by commas.

  • John, however, did not turn up.
  • We were, believe it or not, in love with each other.

We use commas to mark off a noun or phrase in apposition.

  • Milton, the great English poet, was blind.
  • Paul, the apostle, was beheaded during the reign of Nero.

Commas are used to mark off a participial phrase from the rest of the sentence.

  • Driven by rain, we took shelter under a tree.
  • Caesar, having conquered his enemies, returned to Rome.

A non-defining relative clause is separated from the rest of the sentence by commas.

  • Sailors, who are generally superstitious, say it is unlucky to embark on a Friday.

Sections in this article

Full stops, question marks and exclamation marks
Colon and semicolon
Quotation marks




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