The comma is one of the most frequently used punctuation marks, but it is also one of the most misused. Here is a quick reference to help you determine where to place your commas.
- Creating Lists: You were likely taught early on in grade school to use a comma to separate items in lists. The last comma, before the “and” is referred to as the serial comma or the Oxford comma and can be included or excluded, depending on the style manual you are following. Typically, Brits exclude the serial comma while Americans include it. But, to make matters more confusing, AP style manual excludes it. Both are correct.
I will tour the campus, attend a class, and dine in the cafeteria during my visit to Dream U.
- Using Dependent Clauses: Dependent clauses are typically used to provide more information to make the sentence more interesting or to provide additional context:
When I think of what I want in a college experience, I think of Dream U.
- Joining Independent Clauses: When you have two clauses in a sentence that can be separated into two separate sentences, you can either use a semicolon or a comma with a conjunction, such as “and,” “however,” or “therefore.”
I visited Dream U, and I loved it!
- Quotations: When creating dialogue, a comma must precede the beginning of the quotation or before the close of the quotation when the sentence continues beyond the dialogue.
I asked my admissions officer, “What will it take to get admitted to Dream U?”
“I can’t wait to apply to Dream U,“ I told my admissions officer.
- Introductory Words or Phrases: Sentence that begin with an introductory element or adverb require a comma to separate this non-essential information.
This summer, I’m going to visit Dream U.
- Extraneous Descriptions: When a clause can be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence, it is separated by commas which act almost like parentheses.
Dream U, which sits on a hill, has a really pretty campus.
- Dates: Date elements must be separated by commas.
Dream U was founded by Duke Excellence on Saturday, September 3, 1904.
- Addresses: Streets, cities, states, and countries need to be separated with commas.
Dream U is located at 123 Ideal Way, Pleasant Town, HI, USA.
By following this quick reference guide, you will avoid the most common comma errors. Happy writing!