How to Use Commas in English to Improve Your Writing
“A woman without her man is nothing.” This sentence, without punctuation, is easy to find on the Internet. What do you think the writer of this sentence wanted to say?
So what do you think? How would you punctuate this sentence?
Here are two more ways this sentence is often written with punctuation:
- Woman, without her man, is nothing.
- Woman: without her, man is nothing.
Did you notice that with some simple commas and punctuation, the meaning is very different in each sentence? That is a powerful comma!!
Here’s the problem: it can be easy to make mistakes with commas. And comma mistakes can change the meaning of a sentence, they can look unprofessional, or they can cause misunderstanding.
In today’s Confident English lesson, you’ll learn:
- 3 Common Mistakes with Commas and How You Can Fix Them
- 5 Useful Comma Rules for Correct, Impressive English Writing
- The Great Comma Debate and What You Should Do
(P.S. Did you know native speakers make mistakes with commas too? They do! So don’t worry, you’re not alone.)
3 Common Mistakes to Avoid When You Use Commas in English
Greetings and Salutations
- Dear, Annemarie,
- Dear Annemarie
- Hello Annemarie!
- Hi Annemarie,
In salutations or greetings, a comma is not used after Dear but it is used after words such as Hi, Hello, or Good Morning. This is proper English punctuation.
In emails, it has become common not to use a comma between a word such as Hi and the person’s name. For example:
- Hi Sue,
- Hey Lara,
For informal emails, this may be acceptable. However, in business or professional emails, I recommend you follow the proper grammar form.
- Hello, Susan,
- Good morning, Ms. Smith.
- Dear Lara,
- Hi, Selma!
- June, 2016
- 3, June 2016
- June 3 2016
- Thursday 3 June
- Thursday June 3
When the date is written with the day/month/year or month/year, no comma is needed.
- 3 June 2016
- June 2016
If the date is written in the American format with month/day/year, a comma should be used between the day and year.
- June 3, 2016
And finally, if the weekday is included with the date, it should be separated with a comma.
- Thursday, 3 June
- Thursday, June 3
Example: Registration for the next Fluency School opens in on Wednesday, October 16. Have you joined the waitlist yet?
Thank you for your email which you sent me last Friday about how I can improve my writing skills learn vocabulary and speak freely because they really help me but I think I still have a question for you about how I can practice at home and how I can learn quickly.
This is only an example sentence, but it is similar to the many emails I receive.
A common error is to use no comma because you’re not sure. This can be confusing to your reader, so it’s important to follow comma rules in English.
You can start using commas today to improve your writing by following the useful rules below!
5 Comma Rules for Correct, Impressive English Writing
Commas provide necessary pauses in a sentence and create structure. The structure of a sentence provides meaning; the structure also helps you to say what you want to say. Unfortunately, it can be easy to make mistakes with the comma, which can cause misunderstanding or confusion.
Use these basic rules of commas in your writing. This will help your writing to be natural, clear, and easy to understand.
- He looked at everyone in the room and then asked, “How do you think we should solve this issue?”
- “How do you think we should solve this issue,” he asked after looking at everyone for a long time.*
*American and British English use different rules for punctuation inside quotes. With British English, the comma moves outside the quotation marks:
- “How do you think we should solve this issue”, he asked after looking at everyone for a long time.
2. And, But, Yet, So… Connecting Two Sentences
- I went to the store to buy some milk.
- Then I went to the post office to mail the package.
The two sentences above are complete sentences. In English, when we combine two complete sentences, we call it a compound sentence. To make a compound sentence, we need a comma and a word such as and, but, yet, so, or nor.
- I went to the store to buy some milk, and I went to the post office to the mail the package.
- She sent her colleague an email, but later she realized she forgot to include the attachment.
- We really love drama films, so we went to the theater this weekend to see the new modern Shakespeare movie.
- I spoke with Ben briefly on the telephone, but he had to get to work so he didn’t have time to talk about the party next week. I’ll call him later.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Do you notice in these compound sentences, there is a subject (I, she, we, he) in both parts of the sentence? You must do this for your compound sentence to be grammatically correct.If you don’t include a subject in the second part of a sentence, then you don’t need a comma. Example:
- I went to the store to buy some milk and to the post office to mail the package.
- She sent her colleague an email but later realized she forgot to include the attachment.
3. In addition, For example, However, First, Second, Finally… Introductory & Transition Words
When your sentence starts with an introductory word or a transition word, you need to use a common after the word or phrase.Introductory words include in addition, for example, however, in fact, on the other hand, and names.Transition words include first, second, third, finally, after that, next, and then.
- In addition, I’d like to discuss your ideas for how to keep sales strong after the holidays.
- He loves the football! In fact, all he does on the weekends is watch football games.
- Joan, could you send me that document we discussed this morning?
- Finally, could you also add some time to talk about next week’s lesson plan to the meeting agenda? I have some ideas I want to talk with you about.
4. Adding Extra Details in a Sentence
- A journalist from the New York Times won the Pulitzer Prize.
- A journalist from the New York Times, who focuses on investigative reporting, won the Pulitzer Prize.
Let’s look at these two sentences. Sentence 1 is a complete sentence and all of the information is necessary.In Sentence 2, we’ve added extra details. These details provide more information and make the sentence more interesting, but they are not necessary. We can remove ‘who focuses on investigative reporting’ and still have a sentence. As a result, we use commas to separate these extra details.Here are two more examples:
- John, who has been the president of the company for 37 years, is retiring next week.
- The Fluency Challenge, which is only offered 4 times per year, starts next month! Have you signed up yet?
- Oh no! We’re out of coffee! Please remember to add milk, coffee, and coffee filters to your grocery list. If I don’t have my coffee in the morning, I’ll be grouchy!
- I’ve invited our neighbors, parents, Tom’s colleagues, and some old friends to his surprise party. I hope everyone can make it.
If you use a series of adjectives or adverbs in a sentence, each word should be separated by a comma.
- We’ve been looking for a new house for months but haven’t had any luck yet. The house we looked at yesterday was small, old, and run-down. It would cost too much to renovate it.
- The 10-Day Speaking Challenge is the perfect opportunity to practice speaking naturally, fluently, and confidently in English.
- On their vacation to Rome, they visited the Vatican, the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and St. Peter’s Basilica.
There is great debate about using the Oxford or Serial Comma. Some people argue that it helps to clarify information. Other people argue it is unnecessary because of the conjunction and/or. In the world of journalism, the Oxford Comma is often omitted (not used) to save space.
What should you do?
Generally, in the United States, the Oxford Comma is commonly used except in journalism. This means you should use the Oxford Comma for emails, business letters, research papers, academic essays, books, short stories, etc. But you should not use the Oxford Comma for a newspaper article.
However, in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia, it is more common to omit the Oxford Comma.
These are general rules. If you are writing a paper, essay, article, or document, it is best to find out what style is accepted.
Can you explain to me the difference between the two sentences:
- Woman, without her man, is nothing.
- Woman: without her, man is nothing.
Share your answers in the comments.
Thanks for joining me and I wish you a fantastic Confident English Wednesday!
Get the Confidence to Say What You Want in English
Download my free training on how to build the courage and confidence you need to say what you want in English.
You'll also get my Confident English lessons delivered by email every Wednesday and occasional information about available courses. You can unsubscribe any time.
Learn with me
Most Recent Lessons
Motivate your team in English and effectively demonstrate your leadership skills with these 14 must-have phrases + 4 key strategies. Get clear example sentences that you can confidently adapt to your needs as a team leader in an English-speaking environment at work.
Use these English idioms to express your feelings. Idioms add creativity and nuance so you can express yourself precisely.
Assimilation in American English is the reason why the sentence “Nice to meet you” sounds like “nice to meetchu.” As part of the Confident English series on how to Understand Fast English Speakers, this pronunciation training lesson will highlight 6 clear examples of assimilation in American English.