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Hi. I’m Anne Marie with Speak Confident English and welcome to your Confident English Wednesday lesson, the place for you to be if your goal is to improve your English language skills, boost your fluency and your confidence in English so that you can be successful with English in your career and your life. Today we’re going to focus on the comma in English. I know it doesn’t sound exciting yet, but here’s why this is so useful to you and why you are going to be ready to love the comma after today’s video. If you write anything in English, business letters, e-mails … If you write articles for newspapers or magazines or medical or scientific journals … If you have to do an exam in English with an essay, such as the TOEFL or IELTS or if you’re going to write a research paper, anything at all in English, even Facebook posts, then you want to understand how to use the comma in English because the comma can actually change the meaning of your sentence, it can make your writing very clear and easy to understand, or if used incorrectly it can make your writing impossible to understand and very confusing. I know that you want everything that you do in English to be clear and easy to understand.
Today we’re going to focus on five basic rules that you should be using when you write in English with the comma. Then, of course, after you watch the video please go to the online lesson. There is a a full review of these five rules, plus I’ve included the three most common mistakes that I see with commas in writing so that you can avoid making those mistakes in the future. Let’s get started with rule number one. Oprah Winfrey said, “The big secret in life is that there is no big secret. Whatever your goal, you can get there if you’re willing to work hard.” If you see in the example below I’m using a direct quote and you know that because I’m using those quotation marks and it’s introduced by a comma. That is rule number one. When you are using a quote or direct speech in your writing, you introduce that quote with a comma. I can also reverse that sentence and move the comma to the end. For example: The big secret in life is there is no big secret. Whatever your goal, you can get there if you’re willing to work hard, according to Oprah Winfrey.
One quick tip, there is a difference between the punctuation rule in this situation in American English versus British English. Americans put the comma inside the quotation marks and in British English it’s usually outside the quotation marks. For example, if you were to read a British newspaper and then an American newspaper you would probably see the difference.
Rule number two: I went to the grocery store to buy some milk, then I went to the post office to mail a package and after that I went to Starbucks to buy some coffee. Here I’ve used three separate sentences in English but sometimes when we’re writing or speaking we combine sentences into one single sentence. It adds variety and more creativity to our writing or our speaking. To do that we often use words such as ‘and’, ‘but’, ‘so’, ‘yet’. We call those little words conjunctions and they help us take two separate sentences and combine them into one. When we do that we do use a comma to separate those two combined sentences. For example, a sentence would look like: I went to the grocery store to buy some milk, and then I went to the post office to mail a package. For more examples like that so that you know exactly how to use this rule, go to the online lesson to review rule number two.
In rule number three we’re talking about introductory words or short phrases. These are words and phrases that introduce us to a sentence that also help us show transition or the order of something happening. For example, if I use words such as ‘first’, ‘second’, ‘third’, ‘finally’, for example when I’m giving a presentation, those are introductory words or transition words. If you are writing a document and you’re showing the order using those words, you would include a comma after the introductory word before the rest of your sentence. For more great examples of common introductory words and phrases, be sure to visit the online lesson and review the examples.
In rule number four we’re talking about adding extra details to a sentence. Sometimes when we do that the extra details that we add are not necessary for a complete sentence but they make it more interesting or more exciting, or give us more specific information. Those extra words that we add are not a complete sentence on their own, they must be attached to a sentence. I’ll give you an example to make this very clear, but if you know a lot about English grammar and you love English grammar terms, then you might also be thinking about relative clauses. These are situations when we’re adding details to a sentence. Let’s look at an example. I could have a sentence: A journalist from the New York Times won the Pulitzer Prize. I have a complete sentence, it tells you exactly who won a Pulitzer Prize.
Maybe I want some extra information about the journalist. I want to know some extra details, something specific or unique, so I could say: A journalist from the New York Times, who is an investigative reporter, won the Pulitzer Prize. My extra information, the extra details, are the words ‘who is an investigative reporter’. That is not a complete sentence on its own, it must be attached or connected to a sentence, but it gives us this extra information or interesting details. When we add that information, whether it’s at the beginning of the sentence, in the middle or at the end, we use the comma.
Finally, number five. When we have a list of words or a series of words in a sentence, those words could be nouns, adjectives or adverbs, we separate those words with a comma. I’ll give you an example: On our trip to Rome we visited the Vatican, the Coliseum, the Roman Forum, and Saint Peter’s Basilica. I have my list of places, my nouns, and I’ve separated each of those nouns with a comma. Another example using adjectives. If you imagine someone who is maybe planning to purchase a home and they are visiting different homes to see which one they’re most interested in purchasing and they say, “Oh, I was so disappointed. The house we looked at yesterday was small, old, and run-down.” We have our list of adjectives, small, old and run-down, and those are separated with a comma.
To finish today, I want to make one final comment about the comma. In the last example we talked about lists of words and if you noticed in my examples, such as: The Coliseum, the Roman Forum, the Vatican, and Saint Peter’s Basilica, I’m using a comma at the end of that sentence before the word ‘and’ and that comma is actually a huge debate in the English-speaking world. We call that last comma the Oxford or the serial comma. Some people use it and some people don’t. I provide a lot of details and information about this comma in the online lesson. If you’re curious about that comma and whether or not you should use it in your writing, be sure to check out the online lesson at speakconfidentenglish.com.
With that, you now know five basic rules about the comma that will help you have very clear, easy to understand writing in English. If you’ve enjoyed this lesson, be sure to like this video, share the lesson with your friends and colleagues on Facebook or Pinterest. Those are fantastic ways to let me know that this was useful to you and you would like to have more videos in the future. Have a wonderful Wednesday and I’ll see you next week.