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Comma Basics

Comma Basics

Author: Mackenzie W

Identify correct comma usage in sentences.

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[MUSIC PLAYING] Hi, everyone. I'm MacKenzie. And today we're learning about comma basics. Have you ever written something and wondered if you've used a comma correctly? In this tutorial, we'll learn about the basics of comma usage and we'll learn when to use commas.

We'll begin by discussing the definition of a comma. When I say comma, I'm referring to a specific type of punctuation that's used to differentiate parts of a sentence, whether it be just one word, a phrase or an entire clause of a sentence. We use commas as needed to help to clarify the meaning of a sentence. This ensures that the reader isn't confused by what we've written, or doesn't misinterpret what we've written.

We do this by setting apart different parts of the sentence. Overuse of commas can be distracting or it can be confusing to the reader, and it can sound awkward. It's important for us to have a valid reason for why we are including a comma in a sentence, because misuse of commas, whether it be overuse or under use of commas, can be problematic in our writing.

In order to figure out if we need a comma, we should read the sentence out loud. If the sentence sounds smooth and natural, then we have all of the commas in the right places. But if the sentence sounds rather awkward, it may be because we are missing a comma or we need a comma. A comma indicates a pause when we're reading out loud. And that helps us to hear when a comma is needed or not needed.

Here are some examples of some misplaced commas. Our first example reads, I like to eat pancakes for breakfast. The comma is causing us to pause after pancakes, and it seems awkward because there is no valid reason for us to pause before saying for breakfast. We should remove that comma.

Here's a similar example. Our next example reads, breakfast is better when pancakes are involved. Again, the comma is causing the sentence to sound awkward. We really don't need to pause before saying, when pancakes are involved. The confusing part about this, though, is that if we were to reverse the clauses, if we were to say, when pancakes are involved, breakfast is better, we would then use a comma. But based on the way that the sentence is written now, we do not need a comma. It adds an awkward pause to the way the sentence reads.

There are a variety of rules to help us to figure out how to use commas effectively. We'll use examples to help us to learn these rules. Our first rule tells us that we should use a comma after an introductory word, phrase, or clause at the beginning of a sentence. For example, here I say, first, I lift weights at the gym. First is an introductory word. We need a comma to separate first from the rest of the sentence.

Our second example is very similar. Then, I swim a few laps in the pool. Then is another introductory word and we need to use a comma to separate it from the rest of the sentence so that the sentence flows correctly.

Our next rule tells us that we should use a comma when we are separating two independent clauses that are connected to each other using a coordinating conjunction. Our first example reads, it was sunny outside, so we went to the park instead. The word so is the coordinating conjunction. It was sunny outside is one independent clause, and we went to the park instead is another independent clause. We have a comma before the word so, before the coordinating conjunction, to help to tie the two parts of the sentence together, and to demonstrate that they are somehow separate from one another as well.

Our next example is similar. It reads, we left our umbrellas at home, and it started raining when we got there. We left our umbrellas at home is the first independent clause, and then we have a comma because the next word, the word and, is a coordinating conjunction linking the idea to our next independent clause, which is, it started raining when we got there.

Another rule for using commas is that we use them to highlight non-essential information such as words, phrases, and clauses that come in the middle of a sentence. Our first example shows us, house plants, such as philodendrons, are easy to grow. The phrase, such as philodendrons, is adding non-essential information. It's giving us an example of what the sentence is referring to, and we use commas to set that phrase apart from the rest of the sentence to demonstrate that it's its own separate idea within the larger idea or the larger scope of the sentence itself.

Our next example reads, they only need a little direct sunlight and some occasional water, like any plant, to survive. The phrase, like any plant, which is set aside by two commas on either side of the phrase, is additional information. It's not essential for us to understand the meaning of the sentence, but it is adding a little additional information.

Next, we use a comma to separate two or more words in a list or a series. Our first example tells us, I will clean the house, comma, pick up the kids from school, comma, and go grocery shopping. We have two commas here because we have three items in a list, and we need to separate each of them so that the reader knows what each of the items specifically is in the list. Without the commas, the list could be somewhat confusing.

And our second example reads, I need to pick up some eggs, milk, and bread. Again, we have a series or a list here. Eggs, milk, and bread is our list. We're going to use commas to separate each of them so that the reader isn't potentially confused by the items we're listing.

We can also use a comma to highlight the shift in tone or to draw contrast near the end of a sentence. For example, driving more than 3,000 miles without changing the oil in your car will, comma, without a doubt, comma, damage your engine. We set aside the phrase without a doubt using commas near the end of the sentence to help to conclude the end of the sentence. We set aside the phrase without a doubt using commas so that it stands out and it gives the sentence a particular meaning or tone.

Our next example is similar. It reads, changing your oil before you reach the 3,000-mile mark is, comma, of course, comma, preferable. By interjecting the words, of course, and framing them using commas, we're adding a certain tone to the sentence. Another comma usage rule tells us that we should use commas to separate locations, address information, and a year within a date.

For example, if I say, my sister graduated from high school in May 1999, I need to have a comma after May and before 1999. Here's another example. She then moved to Minneapolis, comma, Minnesota to attend college. I'm adding a comma between Minneapolis and Minnesota because we use commas to separate address information.

And our last rule for common usage tells us that we should use commas to separate a writer's words from a quotation. I have two sentences here that each include quotations within the sentence, and I'm using a comma to indicate when the quotation ends and when it begins in addition to also using quotation marks for the same purpose. My first sentence reads, my toddler recently told me, comma-- and this is how I know that the quotation is beginning-- now we have quotation marks, I want a cookie for dinner, comma. And the reason I use a comma instead of a period here is because the sentence is continuing when I say, and I laughed at him.

The next example is similar. Then he said, comma, now here's the quotation, I hate you mommy. And now we have another comma because we have additional information to tack on to the end of the sentence, which reads, which really hurt my feelings. The commas help us to differentiate from the quotation and the writer's own words.

Using these rules will help us to ensure that we are using commas effectively and correctly. In this tutorial, we learned about the basics of common usage and we learned when to use commas. There's always a right time for a comma. I'm MacKenzie. Thanks for listening.