Commas are the Swiss Army knives of the punctuation world: they perform a dizzying array of functions, more than any other punctuation mark, and their presence, absence, or position in a sentence can alter its meaning in surprisingly significant ways.
It’s perhaps because of this versatility that many writers find commas confounding, resorting to rhythmic or respiratory instincts—looking out for any places a reader might pause to think or breathe—to determine where commas should go.
But, as with the other punctuation marks, comma use is in fact governed by a discrete set of grammatical guidelines. Those guidelines might be more expansive and more flexible than the rules surrounding other punctuation marks, but they do exist, and learning them will make your comma placement—and therefore your meaning—that much more precise.
Comma Functions: The List
This guide offers information on the following roles and rules of commas (also linked in the sidebar):
- Introductory commas separate introductory words, phrases, and clauses from the main clause.
- FANBOYS commas work with coordinating conjunctions to join independent clauses.
- List commas enumerate lists of items.
- Nonessential-element commas incorporate nonrestrictive (additional) information into a sentence.
- Other commas create assorted syntactic divisions—within dates, between multiple adjectives, introducing quotations, etc.
More general information on commas can also be found in the links below.
Commas Overview Links