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Welcome to this week's writing lesson from

 MyEnglishTeacher.net

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Lesson Topic: Using Commas ,

     I love ice cream.  I love chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla.

Many people are not sure when to use a comma.  Look at the above sentence.  Should the comma before the and be there?  That is an easy question if you know the rules.  You will find a list of rules below which can answer most of your questions.

Before we begin, let's first explain what independent and dependent clauses are.  An independent clause is a part of a sentence that has both a subject and a verb AND can be a sentence all by itself.  

Example:

     I wanted to go where Frank lives.

What you have above are 2 parts: 

     Part 1 -- I wanted to go

     Part 2 -- where Frank lives

Question: Can part 1 be a sentence by itself?  Does part 1 need part 2?  Not really.  Although part 2 certainly adds important information, part 1 could still be a sentence by itself. The following sentence is grammatically and logically correct.

     I wanted to go.

Because part 1 does not need anything else to be a complete sentence, we call it an independent clause. 

Now look at part 2.  Can part 2 be a sentence by itself?  Can one write the following sentence?

     Where Frank lives.

Is this a complete sentence?  No.  It needs something else.  It is, therefore, a dependent clause. 

Rules for Commas

1. Use a comma to separate 2 independent clauses joined by

 for and nor but
or  yet so*

*when so means as a result

Example: 

     Jenny wants to help feed the poor, so she is planning on going to Africa this summer.

     The doctor would like to see you, but he has been at the hospital all day.

When the 2 independent clauses are very short, some people don't use commas.  However, if you use a comma, it is still okay.

     Joseph likes cheese cake, but Carol likes chocolate cake.

     Joseph likes cheese cake but Carol likes chocolate cake.

2. If there is a list of three or more items, use a comma.

     Mom bought grapes and bananas.  (no commas)

     Mom bought grapes, bananas, and strawberries.

3. If there are two or more adjectives in a row.

     Tim is a handsome, smart man.

4.  When a dependent clause, unnecessary word, or unnecessary phrase AND an independent clause are put together, there is usually a comma.  

     Unless I see you, I won't go.

     Though George is president of the company, he can still be fired.

      When Mei was in Taiwan, she often wrote to me.

The first parts are dependent clauses.  Therefore, there is a comma after them.  *NOTE: When using the above words unless, though, and when, there is NO COMMA if the clause is after the independent clause.  These words are called subordinating conjunctions.  This rule applies to all subordinating conjunctions.  To see a list of more subordinating conjunctions, click here.

     I won't go unless I see you.

     George can still be fired though he is president of the company.

     Mei often wrote to me when she was in Taiwan.

5.  When an adjective clause is unnecessary, use commas.  (Don't know what an adjective clause is?  Click here.)

     The president of the company, who is a Harvard graduate, plans on retiring at the end of the month.

6.  Use commas before a direct quote.  (Want more information about quotations and quotation marks?  Click here.)

     Mark said, I loved visiting China and Korea.

7.  A name or title that is used to address or call a person to attention.

     When, Sir, you come back to this hotel, I cannot guarantee you a room. 

*NOTE: When the name is with an important term of identification, don't use a comma.

     Billy the Kid

     Alexander the Great

     Jack the Ripper

8.  A comma usually follows a transition word.  

     Robert studied for a whole week.  Therefore, he got an A+.

     Jake worked 12 hours a day.  Consequently, he earned enough money to travel the whole summer.

Quiz Time

Directions: Put commas in the sentences below.  Then click the hyperlink to get the answers. 

1. Ivan the Terrible is considered one of the most feared people in history.

2. If you would like to travel first class Madam that will cost an extra $300.

3. Rebecca asked "Can we go to the restaurant?"

4. My best friend who comes from Egypt is a very nice guy.

5. Even if it takes all day I am going to fix the roof.

6. It seems that it will snow today because of the cold weather and red sky.

7. Japanese is food is healthy light and not very oily.

8. There was fear that another big war would start so the United Nations was formed.

9. When you meet people for the first time never talk about religion politics and a bad boss.

10. Jim wants to see a movie but Carol wants to stay home.

 

 



2001 Advanced Learning Center and 2001 MyEnglishTeacher.net.  All rights reserved.

1. Ivan the Terrible is considered one of the most feared people in history.

Answer: Ivan the Terrible is considered one of the most feared people in history.  (NO COMMAS)

2. If you would like to travel first class Madam that will cost an extra $300.

Answer: If you would like to travel first class, Madam, that will cost an extra $300.

3. Rebecca asked "Can we go to the restaurant?

Answer: Rebecca asked, "Can we go to the restaurant?

4. My best friend who comes from Egypt is a very nice guy.

Answer: My best friend, who comes from Egypt, is a very nice guy.

5. Even if it takes all day I am going to fix the roof.

Answer: Even if it takes all day, I am going to fix the roof.

6.  It seems that it will snow today because of the cold weather and red sky.

Answer:  It seems that it will snow today because of the cold weather and red sky.  (NO COMMAS)

7. Japanese is food is healthy light and not very oily.

Answer: Japanese is food is healthy, light, and not very oily.

8. There was fear that another big war would start so the United Nations was formed.

Answer: There was fear that another big war would start, so the United Nations was formed.

9.  When you meet people for the first time never talk about religion politics or a bad boss.

Answer: When you meet people for the first time, never talk about religion, politics, or a bad boss.

10. Jim wants to see a movie but Carol wants to stay home.

Answers: Jim wants to see a movie but Carol wants to stay home.

                    -OR-

                   Jim wants to see a movie, but Carol wants to stay home.

  Rules to Remember! 

1 You cannot put commas wherever you want.  There are specific rules, so study them.
2 Sometimes it is difficult to determine whether a clause is necessary or not.  For example,

     My student who is from Germany just bought a new computer.

The (adjective) clause who is from Germany may or may not be necessary.  Is the speaker just saying the friend is from Germany as extra (unnecessary) information?  Or is the speaker specifying which friend (the one from Germany)?

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