Commas are the most frequently used punctuation marks as you can see many of them in a sentence. Commas usually indicate a pause, a brief pause, unlike a full stop which indicates a stop. They signify which part of your sentences are the most important. The wrong usage of commas can confuse the reader entirely and chances are there that he deciphers a different meaning out of the sentences. Some general wrong notions of why one uses a comma is:

  • All long sentences need to use commas. Long sentences can survive without a comma, it is not necessary that a long sentence should probably have some commas within. It can be without commas and still be entirely meaningful.
  • A comma is used whenever you pause. It is stupid to think that a comma is used whenever one pauses as different people have different pauses.
  • It is almost impossible to find where a comma comes within a sentence. No, its quite easy to figure out where a comma has to be used within a sentence and is used in predictable places.

Let us take a look at some rules that need to be followed while using commas:

Rule 1

Use commas to separate words and word groups in a series of words

Example: My property goes to my wife, daughter, son-in-law, and niece.

Note: When the last comma in a series comes before and or or (after son-in-law in the above example), it is known as the Oxford comma. Most newspapers and magazines drop the Oxford comma in a simple series, apparently feeling it’s unnecessary. However, omission of the Oxford comma can sometimes lead to misunderstandings.

Example: We had tea, cheese and crackers, and apples.

The comma following the crackers conveys that cheese and crackers represent one dish. In such cases, the Oxford comma comes in handy so as to make it more clear.

We had coffee, cheese and crackers, and grapes.

Fiction and nonfiction books generally prefer the Oxford comma. It is up to the writer to decide whether to use an Oxford Comma or not. Anyhow, to convey the intended meaning it is essential to use Oxford comma.

Rule 2

Using a comma to separate two adjectives. This can be done only if both the adjectives are interchangeable.

Example: He is a weak, famished man.
We could also say famished, weak man.

Example: I stayed at a cheap winter hotel.
We would not say winter cheap hotel, so no comma.

Another way to decide if a comma has to be used is by trying to use ‘and’ between the adjectives. If the result still makes sense, add the comma. In the examples above, a weak and famished man makes sense, but cheap and winter hotel does not.