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The Super Six

(The Only Six Comma Rules You’ll Really, Really Need)

1. Use commas to separate items in a series.


The house had three bedrooms, two baths and a pool.
They caught the fish, cleaned it, and then cooked it.

2. Use commas to set off an introductory word, phrase, or clause.


Word: Really, the weather wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be.
No, it didn’t rain.
Phrase: On the whole, this is a great town to live in.
To prove this to my relatives, I took them for a driving tour of the town.
Clause: When the movie was over, everyone was silent.

Hint: Introductory clauses often begin with a subordinating (super) conjunction. See below.

after because since until


although before so when
as even if so that whenever
asif even though than where
aslong as how that wherever
assoon as if though whether
as though in order that unless while

Words of warning: Some of these introductory words are used in places other than at the beginning of an
introductory clause. Remember that a real introductory clause – one that requires a comma – always contains
a subject and a verb. Be especially careful of sentences beginning with BEFORE and AFTER.

Also be sure that the words WHEN and WHERE begin introductory clauses and not questions. Sentences
beginning with these words require a comma only when they are not questions.
• When time allows, I’ll have the job finished.
(WHEN starts a sentence that is not a question. USE COMMA)
• When will the job be finished? (WHEN starts a question, not an introductory clause. NO COMMA.)

3. Use a comma before coordinating (simple) conjunctions when they join two
independent clauses.

The coordinating conjunctions are: and, but, or, nor, for, yet, so.

Remember, an independent clause (we sometimes call them “adult clauses” because they can stand alone)
must have both a subject and a verb.
The boy flew to London, and he took a bus to France.
He enjoyed the flight, but he liked the boat ride more.

Hint: The coordinating conjunction DOES NOT need help from a comma when it is separating two phrases or a
clause and a phrase.
The boy flew to London and left for France the next day.
The boy and his sister decided to return home together.
4. Use a comma to separate unnecessary words or phrases in a sentence.
Word: I didn’t hear the phone ring, however, because I was in the shower.
My next-door neighbor, Carlos, is from Portugal.
Phrase: One of the most popular tourist spots, according to recent surveys, is Disneyland.

Hint: Do not use commas with WHO, WHOSE, WHEN, or WHERE if the information is necessary for
understanding the main point of the sentence.
My friend who is bringing my medicine just arrived in town
Hint: Do not use commas to set off clauses beginning with THAT. (Adjective clauses beginning with a relative
pronoun)
The mall that is downtown has three restaurants.
One more hint: DO use commas to set off clauses that begin with WHICH.
Marquette High, which is the only high school in town, is my alma mater.

5. Use commas to mark direct quotations.


My friends often say, “You are so lucky”.
“You are so lucky,” my friends often say.
“I am so lucky,” I often say, “to have good friends.”
Hint: If a quotation ends with a question mark or an exclamation point, do not use a comma. Only
one punctuation mark is needed.
NOT: “What did he want?,” she asked.
Correct: “What did he want,” she asked.

6. Use commas in dates and addresses much like you use them to
separate items in a series.
Numbers: What is 2, 502, 500 divided by 10, 255?
Dates: My great grandfather was born in December 1888 in London and died on July
23,
1971, in Denver.
Addresses: Ashley moved from Chicago, Illinois, to 1503 Jefferson Ave., Boston, MA
09643.
Letters: Dear Alisha,
Yours truly,

Rules in Review:
1. Use commas to separate items in a series.
2. Use commas to set off an introductory word, phrase or clause.
3. Use a comma before a Coordinating Conjunction (AND, BUT, OR, NOR,
FOR, YET, SO) when they join two independent clauses.
4. Use a comma to separate unnecessary words or phrases in a
sentence.
5. Use commas to mark direct quotations.
6. Use commas in dates and addresses much like you use them to
separate items in a series.