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By Judy Vorfeld

Do you cringe when some­one reviews your work and says you’re mak­ing mis­takes with com­mas? Never fear. I’m here to help.

Q. How do I know if and when to use a comma to set off words near the begin­ning of a sen­tence?
A. Use a comma after ele­ments that begin a sen­tence and also come before the sub­ject and verb of the main clause. Examples: No, we won’t.…Well, we may or we may not.

Also use a comma after an ini­tial request or com­mand. Examples: Look, this isn’t the first time it’s happened.…Always remem­ber, use a dif­fer­ent font for headings.

Q. What about set­ting off words, phrases or clauses that aren’t vital to the mean­ing of the sen­tence?
A. Use com­mas here, as well. Example: Let’s call Claudia, who’s a tech­ni­cal wiz­ard, to get help.

Q. Can I use a comma to sep­a­rate a word, phrase or clause when I want an after­thought?
A. Absolutely. Example: Contact me as soon as pos­si­ble, please.…It’s not to late, is it?

Q. I need help under­stand­ing ser­ial com­mas. I can never remem­ber whether or not to use a comma before “and.“
A. Most experts use a comma before “and.” Here’s an exam­ple: I’d like to express my appre­ci­a­tion to Oprah, Anderson, and Regis.

Some gram­mar experts say it’s okay to omit the comma before “and.” Example: “I’d like to express my appre­ci­a­tion to Oprah, Sally and Regis.” But it’s a bit awk­ward. Each of the three ele­ments is meant to be a sep­a­rate entity. Use the ser­ial comma.

Best prac­tice: if there are three or more items in a series, and the last one is pre­ceded by “and,” “or,” or “nor,” use a comma before the con­junc­tion and between the other items. If you’re uncom­fort­able with that, you can always rewrite the sen­tence (see sen­tence below for peo­ple who hate commas).

Correct: We need a CPU, mon­i­tor, and mouse to get started.
Correct: (For peo­ple who hate com­mas) We need a CPU and mon­i­tor and mouse to get started.
Awkward: We need a CPU, mon­i­tor and mouse to get started.

NOTE: The above sug­ges­tions usu­ally apply to every­thing but jour­nal­ism. The Associated Press Style Guide doesn’t use the ser­ial comma, but keep in mind that the AP style has to be brief. Space in news­pa­pers, mag­a­zines, etc., is lim­ited. So fol­low the style guides. Questions? Ask me. I have most style guides…


When to Use Commas

Serial Comma, Wikipedia


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