The Comma: Keeping Order

This page was first published on the 30th of March, 2017 and last updated on the 31st of March, 2017 by Patrick Carpen.

The comma is a very important punctuation device. It serves to keep order within the sentence.

In this article, I’ll give you some TIPS for remembering the four uses of the comma, quite literally.

The comma is used for:

T – thought interruption

I – introductory words

P – principal clauses

S – series

And there you have it! TIPS for using the comma.

The Comma For Thought Interruption

Thought Interruption: Emphasis Words

Sometimes when we speak or write, we use words which interrupt the thought of the sentence. These words are sometimes used for emphasis. They include: of course, therefore, however, in fact, no doubt, for instance….

For example: We knew, of course, that Jack would refuse.

Here are some more examples:

  1. The Brazilian manufacturing sector, of course, is vast.
  2. It is, in fact, more than twenty times that of other South American countries.
  3. Brazil produces, for instance, just about everything from a pin to an anchor.
  4. That, of course, is the definition of a “self-sufficient” country.
  5. A self-sufficient country, needless to say, can survive without foreign imports.
  6. There is, however, always rhyme and reason to import from other countries.
  7. It is important, therefore, that we as a nation strengthen and expand our manufacturing sector.
  8. There are people, however, who couldn’t care less about excessive imports.
  9. They mean no harm, no doubt, but they are, nevertheless, saboteurs of our natural wealth.
  10. Do you realize, for instance, that exports strengthen the value of our country’s dollar?
  11. The future of our economy depends, therefore, on our productive capacity.
  12. We must, of course, make the best of our natural resources.

Thought Interruption: Appositions

Sometimes, we interrupt the flow of a sentence to give additional information about the subject. Look at this sentence: Miss Janice Torres spoke to the students about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

Now let’s add some additional information about the subject, Miss Yvette Archer:

Miss Janice Torres, the Head of the English Department, spoke to the students about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

The words “the Head of the English Department” give additional information about the subject, Miss Janice Torres. They are called “words in opposition” and are marked off by commas.

An apposition may consist of one word or more than one word.

Here are some more examples:

  1. John Milton, the poet, lives in Ohio.
  2. Have you read of Sir Walter Raleigh, the great explorer?
  3. Jensen Ackles, the famous American actor, started his career in the soap operas.
  4. The explained the matter to Mr. Winston Benjamin, the famous lawyer.
  5. Aaliyah Douglas, a student of St. Ignatius Secondary, lives in the Rupununi.

As you can see from examples 2 and 4, oppositions do not always cut into the sentence, they are sometimes placed at the end.

The Comma Marks off Introductory Clauses and Phrases

The comma is used to separate an introductory clause or phrase from the main clause in a sentence. Here’s an example: When the firebell rang, the pupils marched orderly to the exit.

Obviously, the expression, “when the firebell rang”, is an introductory clause; and the expression, “the pupils marched orderly to the exit”, is the main clause. The comma is used to separate the two. That is, it is used to show where one stops and the other starts.

Here are some more examples.

  1. As we travelled farther south, we discovered an attractive cabin.
  2. Bordering the Rupununi River, it was set deep in the woods.
  3. Through the trees, we could see a man working on a tractor.
  4. Having flown the parts in, he had reassembled the machine there.
  5. As we sat on a nearby hill, we could hear the engine cheerfully chugging away.
  6. On the hill behind us, the tractor began clearing a path.
  7. Believe it or not, it was a modern tractor operating two hundred miles away from civilization.
  8. Wanting to spend some time with nature, the man was building a holiday resort.
  9. According to his belief, people would fly here to enjoy their vacation.
  10. Having completed his job, he invited his friends and relatives.

The Comma For Principal Clauses of the Compound Sentences

The compound sentence is made up of two principal clauses. Example: Jack likes ice cream, but I prefer candy. As you can see from the preceding example, we use a comma to separate the two principal clauses of a compound sentence.

Now let’s include the subject in the second clause: I left home, and I walked down town.

As you can see, when the subject of the second clause is stated, we need to separate the two clauses with a comma; but when the subject of the second clause is understood, we omit the comma.

Below are some more examples of compound sentences in which a comma has been used to mark off the two principal clauses.

  1. Guyana is a temperate country, and it has only two seasons.
  2. The rainy season brings cold temperature, and the sunny season comes with warm sunshine.
  3. The beaches, waterfalls and creeks are good places to spend the sunny season, but your house is best when it rains.
  4. The sunny season is good for preparing the fields, and the raining season is good for watching crops grow.
  5. The fertile soil contains lots of nutrients, and adequate irrigation helps plants absorb it.
  6. Irrigation is important for plants to flourish, but draining is also important to get rid of excessive water.
  7. Farmers dig drains to run off excessive water, but they use water pumps during the dry seasons.
  8. Some plants require lots of rainfall, but others grow well without much water.
  9. Some people enjoy the raining reason, and others love the sunshine.
  10. Which do you prefer, and where would you go?


The Comma for Separating Items in a Series

A comma is used to separate items in a series. A series, in this sense, is a number of words, phrases or clauses coming one after the other. Here is an example: I enjoy riding, swimming, dancing, reading, teaching and writing.

Below are some more examples:

1. Go to the shop an buy flour, sugar, tomatoes, onion and garlic.

2. Mel Gibson starred in The Patriot, Brave Heart, Redemption and American Hero.

3. To be a great performer, you need to master the arts of singing, dancing, speaking and listening.

4. The students of St. Ignatius Secondary study Mathematics, English, Chemistry, Physics and Biology.

5. Aishalton, Sandcreek, Moco Moco and Kumu are all villages in the Rupununi Savannahs.

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