A comma is used in the middle of, and never at the end of a sentence. This is done to make the sentence clearer, especially to separate items in a list. However, overusing commas can complicate a sentence, or render it meaningless. A comma is important to avoid any possibility of misunderstanding a sentence as the following example shows:
While my father was eating, my mother was drinking.
While my father was eating my mother was drinking.
Without the comma, it appears my father was cannibalizing my mother.
A comma is used:
- to separate words in a list
Example: We saw monkeys, porcupines, lions and tigers in the zoo.
- to show a pause in a sentence.
Example: Yesterday, as I was jogging in the park, I saw a black baboon.
- before inverted commas of actual words spoken.
Example: He told us, "I believe the world is flat."
- to separate the name of the person spoken to.
Example: "Jane, let me show you how to do it."
- to separate items in dates, that is day of week from the date, and day of month from the year.
Example: He is marrying on Tuesday, 1st April.
Example: The explosion happened on 1st January, 2000.
- to separate exclamations and expressions from the rest of the sentence.
Example: Oh no, it can't be true.
Example: Well, all I can say is it's a waste of money.
- after such words or phrases – of course, therefore, for example, however, moreover, etc. – when we begin a sentence.
Example: Of course, you are always right.
Example: Moreover, the rent is high and the location is not perfect.
- to separate parts of an address.
Example: 999, Downing Street, Kingston.
- to separate cities and states/provinces, states/provinces and countries.
Example: Montana, USA.
- to separate numbers that exceed three digits.
Example: 2,000 / 20,000
- to separate greetings and closings in letters,
Example: Dear Princess Diana, / Yours sincerely.
- to separate more than one adjective that modifies a noun.
Example: The short, puny man was a comedian.
- to separate relative clause from the rest of the sentence.
Example: The man, who lives next door, is a circus clown.
- to separate two independent clauses which together form a compound sentence.
Example: Jack is washing the car, and Jill is washing the dishes.