The Chicago Manual of Style has 59 comma rules; one of my favorite old reference books, the Gregg Reference Manual, has 52. I promise you we won’t be discussing that many because I have grouped some together and left some more minor ones out (you can rely on the “pause” method for those!)
We have talked about these comma usages so far:
- The comma in a series (Oxford)
- Commas in compound sentences
- Commas with interrupting words
- Commas with introductory words and phrases
- Commas with interrupting phrases
- Commas with adjective clauses
- Commas with adverb and noun clauses
This post talks about six other comma uses.
Direct Address: Direct address is when you call someone by name. And when you do, in a sentence, you set the name off with commas regardless of where in the sentence the name appears.
- Megan, please do the dishes.
- Please, Megan, do the dishes.
- Please do the dishes, Megan
Two Adjectives in a Row: Sometimes two adjectives in a row are separated with a comma, but sometimes they are not. If the first adjective describes the second adjective (rather than the noun that follows them), there is no comma:
- I like the bright blue dress. (bright describes the kind of blue, not the dress)
There is, however, sometimes a fine line as to whether there should be a comma between the adjectives. The best thing to do is read the phrase and put “and” between the two adjectives. If the phrase sounds okay with “and,” you should probably use a comma between the two adjectives (but take out the and!)
- Do you have to wear that old green shirt? (old and green doesn’t really sound right, so no comma needed)
- That old, raggedy sweater is mine. (old and raggedy sounds okay, so use a comma)
- Did you see the great new show at the theater? (great and new doesn’t sound right, so no comma)
- I rescued that old, sad dog from the shelter. (old and sad sounds okay; I would say this one goes either way)
Usually, it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference if you leave the comma out. If you put the comma in where it doesn’t belong (like bright blue dress), it will look strange.
Certain Words and Abbreviations: We pretty much covered this with interrupting words. Things like namely, for example, i.e., e.g., and that is are set off with commas.
- I love Italian food, namely, pizza, pasta, and garlic bread.
- She likes active hobbies, for example, sports and dancing.
- She is the drum major in the band, that is, the leader of the marching band.
- I want to go to an ivy league school, e.g., Harvard, Yale, or Princeton
Dates: A common use of commas is in dates, and it can be confusing and best shown by example.
- January 9, 2016 (in a letter)
- 9th of January, 2016 (in a letter)
- On January 9, 2016, we will have a meeting.
- I need the January 9, 2016, issue of the magazine.
- I was born on January 9, 1999, in New York City.
- I was born in January 2016 in New York City.
Addresses: Addresses can also be kind of confusing and are best shown by example. An address on an envelope is pretty straightforward, so other examples will be for addresses in text. Envelope:
Mr. James Johnson
49 Baker Street
Boston, MA 12345
- Send the package to Mr. James Johnson, 49 Baker Street, Boston, MA 12345.
- Send the package to Mr. James Johnson, 49 Baker St., Boston, MA 12345
- Send the package to Mr. James Johnson, 49 Baker Street in Boston.
- I am moving to New Orleans, Louisiana, in a year or two.
- I was born in Los Angeles, California, in 1968.
- I was born in California in 1968.
Title and Company Names: The best rule of thumb to follow here is to write the company name or person’s title the way they want it done. I am talking mostly about things like Jr. and Inc., here. You do not need commas.
- Mark J. Phelan, Jr. is speaking tonight
- Mark J. Phelan Jr. is speaking tonight.
You don’t put a comma after Jr. And it is up to the person as to whether they spell it with a comma before Jr.. If you don’t know….either way is OK.
- Athens Chemical, Inc. is building a new complex downtown.
- Athens Chemical Inc. is building a new complex downtown.
Spell and punctuate a company’s name just the way they do.
Next week: The final comma rules (Yay!)
P.S. I probably already mentioned this in a previous post, but you do not need a comma before the too at the end of a sentence:
- I, too, would like to go.
- I would like to go too.
I will be reading from Fifty Shades of Grammar as the Featured Speaker at Redwood Writers Open Mic at Gaia’s Garden in Santa Rosa, Saturday, January 23 from 2-4 p.m. Please come hear me and other local authors!
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