A comma is the second most used punctuation mark in English. It has several usages. In this post, we learn all the usages of a comma in English.
Let’s look at and master all the different usages of a comma in English first.
18 different usages of commas
1. Use a comma to add non-essential information to a sentence.
If you provide extra information about a noun in a sentence, use commas to set it off.
- Radhika, who is my school friend, has opened a café recently. (adjective clause)
- A period, also known as a full stop, is quite easy to use.
- They are planning to move to Dubai, my motherland. (appositive phrase)
After nonessential adjective clauses
- Justin Bieber, who is a famous singer, has recently bought a mansion for 3 million dollars.
- Jane was shocked to know that her friends secretly planned a trip to Bali, which has a lot of beautiful beaches.
After nonessential appositive phrases
- Ron Charles, the head of the sales department, has called for a discussion.
- Dr. Jon Pontings, a cardiologist at the Green Alley hospital, is coming to our college for a seminar.
2. Use a comma when two independent clauses are joined using a coordinating conjunction.
Coordinating conjunctions: FOR, AND, NOR, BUT, OR, YET, DO (FANBOYS)
- I teach English, for I love it.
- He loves his friends, and he can die for them.
- I wasn’t happy with the job, so I left it.
3. Use a comma after adverbs that modify a complete sentence.
If a sentence starts with a modifier that modifies a complete sentence, use a comma after it.
Sentence adverbs: thankfully, fortunately, unfortunately, generally, interestingly, ideally etc.
- Fortunately, we won the match.
- Unfortunately, there was nobody to help her when the robbery took place.
- Honestly, I don’t trust you.
4. Use a comma after a participle phrase if it comes at the beginning of a sentence.
If a sentence starts with a participle phrase, use a comma right after it.
- Motivated by his speech, I started working on my weaknesses.
- Written by a genius, this book can change your life.
- Fired from the job, he got sad and started drinking.
5. Use a comma after an introductory infinitive phrase.
If an infinitive phrase introduces a sentence and modifies it, use a comma right after it.
- To win this tournament, we will do everything we can.
- To make her birthday special, I got her favorite car.
- To meet his cousin, Jon has gone to Banaras.
6. Use a comma after transitional words.
Transitional words and phrases: however, therefore, moreover, to sum up, in summary, in brief, additionally, on the other hand, for instance, firstly, secondly, etc.
- Nancy is ready to teach you. However, you have to pass a test before that.
- It was dark, and there was nobody to help us fix the car; therefore, we had to walk to our house.
- Firstly, I am not your friend. Secondly, you have to do this on your own.
7. Use a comma to add a list of items.
If you are adding two or more items to a list, use commas to separate the list.
- Jamie and I went shopping yesterday. We bought fruits, vegetables, and some clothes.
- The ingredients that I used in this dish are milk, cornflour, salt, spices, olive oil, cheese, and some vegetables.
8. Use a comma In a list of items to give further information about the items added.
When there is a list of items, generally nouns, in a sentence, and you want to provide information (extra) about each item, the information is added using a comma. And the items are separated using a semicolon.
- They have Rohan, an English teacher; Jacob, a marketer; Rachel, a financial analyst; and Karolina, a graphic designer, in their team.
Notice that the highlighted parts are individual items in the list, and we have provided information about each item using a comma right after it (in bold). One complete item is separated using a semicolon in this case to avoid the confusion of identifying separate items.
First item = Rohan
Second item = Jacob
Third item = Rachel
Fourth item = Karolina
We have given further information about these items (noun phrases coming next to them) using a comma. The comma after each item is also used as the information we provide about the items is nonessential or extra.
- My best friends are Mangesh, 23; Jyoti, 20; Archit, 27; and Sourabh, 24.
- My plans for the evening include going to a beach, close to our place; drinking some wine, obviously of Lina’s choice; listening to songs, jazz or classic; and walking back to home, holding each other’s hands.
- We have been to Jaipur, pink city; Bangalore, technology hub; Delhi, the heart of the country; and Mumbai; the film city.
9. Use a comma before a question tag.
Question tag: it is a short question that comes at the end of a statement.
- You are a coder, aren’t you?
- Your father works at Samsung, doesn’t he?
- You don’t eat fish, do you?
- She hasn’t called you yet, has she?
10. Use a comma after injections.
Common interjections: yes, no, oh, hello, sorry, wow, hurray, alas, oops, ouch, well, thanks, yeah…
- Yes, that’s my car.
- No, I don’t work here.
- My lord, that is a huge dog.
- Woah, this house is beautiful.
NOTE: to give more feelings to your interjections, use an exclamation mark.
- My lord! That is a huge dog.
- Whoa! This house is beautiful.
11. Use a comma to add multiple actions.
Use commas to add actions, more than two, done by the subject.
- I opened the box, took out the gift, and threw it onto the floor.
- As soon as we reached the hotel, we took the key from the reception, got into our rooms, and jumped onto the bed.
- Come close to me, look into my eyes, and tell me what I feel for you.
12. Use commas in a complete address.
Commas are used to separate the building/house number, a street name, an area name, and a city/state in an address.
- Drop the parcel at B-26, Mayur Vihar, Delhi.
- He lives at C-block, Oxford Street, London.
13. Use a comma to address someone directly.
If you are addressing someone directly, use a comma before or after the name of the person.
- Call me in 20 minutes, Jon.
- Are you still there, Jennifer?
- I love you, Nancy.
- Aarushi, you are a gem.
NOTE: if you address someone first then bring the message, use a comma right after the person’s name. And when the name of the person is coming at the end of the sentence, use a comma before the name.
14. Comma a comma in dates.
The year is separated from the date and the month .
- We got married on January 5, 2016.
- The function is happening on June 10, 2021.
15. Use a comma to separate a quotation from the rest of the sentence.
Use a comma to separate a quote from the rest of the sentence.
- In the history lecture, the teacher said, “You must study history to know your culture better.”
- Ashish always says, “Information is the key to success.”
16. Use a comma to add coordinate adjectives.
Coordinating adjectives come from the same category and describe a noun. When we add two or more coordinate adjectives, we use commas to separate them.
- That is a long, narrow road.
- He is a smart, rich, good-looking man.
NOTE: we can also use the conjunction ‘and’ to add them.
- That is a long and narrow road.
- He is a rich and good-looking man.
Now, let’s look at the situations where we tend to use commas but we shouldn’t.
17. After a prepositional phrase
If a sentence starts with a prepositional phrase, use a comma right after it.
- After the party, I will show you something.
- During the match, the commentators were very biased.
18. To set off a phrase that shows contrast
NOT phrases or some phrases often give contrasting information. They generally come at the end of a sentence and are set off using a comma.
- I love you, not your money.
- Fall in love with the process, not the results.
- He starting crying out loud, unaware of that people were looking at him.
- Unlike you, I love talking to people.
When not to use a comma.
1. Don’t use a comma to add two independent clauses.
- I love you, I can’t do this for you. ❌
- Janie and I went shopping yesterday, we bought a lot of toys and sweets for the kids. ❌
2. Don’t use a comma to separate a subject from a predicate.
Students often make the mistake of using a comma right after the subject to make a distinction between the subject and the predicate.
It is generally done when the subject is quite long and readers might have difficulty finding the subject. Irrespective of the length of the subject, you should never set it off using a comma.
- Your friend Jacob, is a smart businessman. ❌
Correction: Your friend Jacob is a smart businessman. ✔️
- The man standing next to the car colored black and blue, is a magician. ❌
Correction: The man standing next to the car colored black and blue is a magician. ✔️
3. Don’t use a comma to set off essential information.
Modifiers in the form of essential adjective clauses, prepositional phrases, infinitive phrases, and appositive phrases provide essential (important) important information in a sentence. We mustn’t offset these using a comma.
- Your friend, Rohan, looks really passionate to me. ❌
(The noun Rohan is identifying the noun phrase ‘your friend’ and giving essential information about it. You might have many friends; ‘Rohan’ helps us identify which friend the speaker is referring to. It shouldn’t be offset using commas.)
Correction: Your friend Rohan looks really passionate to me. ✔️
4. Don’t use a comma between a compound subject (two subjects) and compound objects (two objects).
If a sentence has a compound subject (a combination of two subjects) or a compound predicate (a combination of two objects), don’t use a comma between them.
- Jon, and his training partners have black belts in Jiu-Jitsu. ❌
- I love teaching English, and writing poems. ❌
- Jon and his training partners have black belts in Jiu-Jitsu. ✔️
- I love teaching English and writing poems. ✔️
5. Don’t use a comma to add two verbs or verb phrases in a compound predicate.
- He opened the box, and started crying. ❌
- As soon as the train arrived, we packed the bags, and left the station. ❌
- He opened the box and started crying. ✔️
- As soon as the train arrived, we packed the bags and left the station. ✔️
6. Don’t use a comma to separate a verb from its object or complement.
- What I really want to do is, to pack my bag and explore the country. ❌
- The most important thing to learn about time is, that it doesn’t wait for anyone. ❌
- What I really want to do is to pack my bag and explore the country. ✔️
- The most important thing to learn about time is that it doesn’t wait for anyone. ✔️
7. Don’t use a comma to separate an independent clause from a dependent clause if the independent clause is coming before the dependent clause.
Dependent clause + comma + independent clause
Independent clause + dependent clause
- We will leave the place, when the rain stops. ❌
- We will leave the place when the rain stops. ✔️
- When the rain stops, we will leave the place. ✔️
8. Don’t use a comma before the conjunction ‘OR’ unless it adds two independent clauses.
- London, or Paris is great for the wedding destination. ❌
- We can have some hot coffee, or some cold ice tea. ❌
- London or Paris is great for the wedding destination. ✔️
- We can have some hot coffee or some cold ice tea. ✔️
Note that if ‘or’ adds two independent clauses, we must use a comma before it.
- You accept my offer, or you can leave.