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 Writing

PUNCTUATION

Commas

This is not a complete list but covers the main points.

1. Use a comma to separate two adjectives when the word “and” can be inserted between them:

• They have a large, thriving company.
BUT
• We bought expensive winter tyres.

You would not say expensive and winter tyres, so there’s no comma.

2. Use a comma to separate the day of the month from the year. Also use a comma after the year:

• John met the delegation on September 26, 2007, in Dublin.

If the actual date is omitted, leave out the comma:

• He met them in September 2007 in Dublin.

3. Use a comma to separate the city from the state. The comma after the state is optional – both forms are used:

• He has lived in Melbourne, Victoria, for 25 years.
OR
• He has lived in Melbourne, Victoria for 25 years.

4. Use commas to surround degrees or titles that accompany names:

• Jane Martin, M.D., works at St. Andrews hospital.

5. Use commas to separate words and word groups with a series of three or more – this avoids confusion:

• The proceeds from the sale of the house will be divided equally among myself, my mother, brother, and sister.

Omitting the comma after brother is confusing – it indicates that the brother and sister will have to split one-third of the proceeds between them.

6. Use commas around expressions that interrupt the flow of a sentence:

• He is, as he himself admits, no expert on the matter.

7. If someone or something has been identified, then the description following it is considered extra information and should be surrounded by commas:

• Allan, who lives in Berlin, is working for us in Rome at the moment.

If we do not know which man is being referred to without adding extra information, no comma is used:

• The employee who lives in Berlin is working for us in Rome at the moment.

8. If you start a sentence with a weak clause, use a comma after it. However, do not use a comma if you start with a strong clause:

• If you can’t make it, be sure to let us know.
BUT
• Be sure to let us know if you can’t make it.

9. When a sentence consists of two strong clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction (and, or, but, for, nor), use a comma to separate them:

• They were trying to finish the new programme in time and on budget, but John wasn’t being very helpful.

If the clauses are both short, you can omit the comma:

• They were right and he was wrong.

Use a comma to separate two clauses if it helps avoid confusion:

• I paid for the desk and the chairs, and his contribution was the computer and the bookshelf.

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