Almost all grammar books describe how to correctly use commas. But here are some situations where a comma would be in the wrong place.
General use of commas
Commas are used to separate words and phrases into blocks of information that are supposed to be helpful to the reader.
When used correctly, commas make it easy for readers to absorb that information. When commas are used incorrectly, readers may become confused or even misread the information.
Causing a reader to pause in order to interpret a group of words causes frustration, stops the flow of the narrative, and may cause the reader to toss the work.
When it’s wrong to use a comma
Do not use commas to separate:
- a compound subject (e.g., Al and Bob went for a walk.). Note: When there are more than two subjects, commas should be placed after each one (e.g., Al, Bob, Carl, and Dave were on the team.).
- two actions of a simple or compound subject (e.g., Ed hit the bed and fell sound asleep. Fran and Geri went to the park and watched the fireworks.).
- the subject from the predicate (e.g., Ken decided to give up.). Exception: Commas should be used when there’s an intervening dependent phrase or clause (e.g., Ken, seeing the overwhelming odds against him, decided to give up.).
- two nouns or noun phrases in a compound object (e.g., Marty and Norris feared they were lost and that they’d never be found.).
- items in a series when you use a conjunction between each element in the series (e.g., Octavia ate the apple and the peach and the pear.).
- adjectives from the words they modify (e.g., Peter loved his new car.).
- non-coordinate adjectives (these are adjectives that are equal—that is, they can be used in a different order and still make sense, and if the sentence still makes sense with the word and between the adjectives) (e.g., Quentin bought an old dilapidated run-down house as a fixer-upper.).
- two independent clauses, unless there’s a conjunction between them (this called is a “comma splice”) (e.g., The car was a shiny bright red, and Harry liked to drive hot cars.) There are several ways that a comma splice can be fixed, including a) adding a comma and a conjunction, b) adding a semicolon or a dash, without a conjunction, or c) breaking the long sentence into two shorter sentences, each on containing one of the independent clauses. Exception: In short sentences when the two independent clauses are closely related, it might be acceptable to join the two clauses with a conjunction, but without a comma (e.g., Ira stared and Jackie gawked.).
- restrictive or essential clauses from the rest of the sentence (e.g., My cousin who lives in Texas came for a visit.). The idea here is that the subject has a number of cousins, but only one of them, the one who lives in Texas, came to visit. Note: If the fact that the cousin lives in Texas is not essential to the main thought, then the phrase “who lives in Texas” would be set off with commas.
- a dependent clause from an independent clause when the independent clause comes first (e.g., Laurie was happy because her best friend won the contest.). However, when the dependent clause comes first, a comma should be used (e.g., Because her best friend won the contest, Laurie was happy.).
There are lots of rules for when to use and not to use commas. By adhering to the rules, your readers will be able to smoothly and effectively follow the flow of your text—a win-win situation.
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