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Grammar Alert! Comma Rules Your Child Needs to Know

By Lily Iatridis  June 1, 2013

Blog- CommasLately, many of my students in Essay Rock Star seem to be making the same comma mistakes over and over. Mostly, I've just been seeing far too many run-on sentences.  So here's a copy of one of  the resource articles on comma rules straight from the course's Resources file.  Review them in case you need a refresher on commas yourself, and help your kids know when to use a comma!

To Use a Comma, or Not to Use a Comma?

Knowing comma rules can be tricky.  But if you follow these ten easy rules, you’ll quickly fix most of your mistakes when using commas in a piece of writing.

Rule 1:  Use a comma to separate the elements in a series (three or more things), including the last two.

Example:  He hit the ball, dropped the bat, and ran to first base.

Rule 2:  Use a comma + a conjunction (and, but, for, nor, yet, or, so) to connect two independent clauses.  An independent clause is a related group of words that contain both a subject and a verb.

Example:  He hit the ball well, but he ran toward third base.

Rule 3:  Use a comma to set off introductory elements.

Example:  Running toward third base, he suddenly realized how silly he looked.

Rule 4:  Use a comma to set off  parenthetical elements.  A parenthetical element is a part of a sentence that can be taken away without changing the basic meaning of that sentence.

Below are some examples to help you better understand various types of parenthetical elements.  The parenthetical elements are underlined.

The truth is, deciding when to use a comma can be tricky.

The Founders Bridge, which spans the Connecticut River, is falling down.

Their years of training now forgotten, the soldiers broke ranks.

Yes, it is always a matter, of course, of preparation and attitude.

I'm telling you, Juanita, I couldn't be more surprised.

Calhoun's ambition, to become a goalie in professional soccer, is within his reach.

Eleanor, his wife of thirty years, suddenly decided to open her own business.

Rule 5:  Use a comma to separate coordinate adjectives.  In other words, if you can put an and or a but between the adjectives in a sentence, a comma can probably go there instead.


He is a tall and distinguished fellow.  He is a tall, distinguished fellow.

I live in a very old and run-down house.  I live in a very old, run-down house.

Rule 6:  Use a comma to set off quoted elements.  Generally, use a comma to separate quoted material from the rest of the sentence that explains or introduces the quotation.


Peter Coveney writes, "The purpose and strength of the romantic image of the child had been above all to establish a relation between childhood and adult consciousness."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many things."

Rule 7:  Use commas to set off phrases that express contrast.


Some say the world will end in ice, not fire.

It was her money, not her charm or personality, that first attracted him.

Rule 8:  Use a comma to avoid confusion. This is often a matter of consistently applying Rule 3, adding commas after introductory elements.


For most the year is already finished.   (Confusing!)                                                             

For most, the year is already finished.

Outside the lawn was cluttered with hundreds of broken branches.   (Confusing!)

Outside, the lawn was cluttered with hundreds of broken branches.

Rule 9:  Typographical reasons.  Place a comma between a city and a state, a date and the year, a name and a title when the title comes after the name, in long numbers, and so on.


Hartford, Connecticut

July 4, 1776


Rule 10:  When in doubt, don’t use a comma!  Try not to use a comma unless you can apply a specific rule from this page to do so.



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