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IMA Associates Newsletter
August 2007

A Comma Here, A Comma There

I often hear people say that commas are a punctuation challenge for them; either they use too many or too few. Sometimes they use commas randomly, hoping that the commas land correctly in the sentence.

Since commas can influence the meaning of a sentence, their placement or absence can have different results. Which one of the following do you prefer?

    Woman, without her, man is nothing.

    Woman without her man is nothing.
To ensure you punctuate sentences that express your intended meaning, review the following principal guidelines for comma usage.

Commas Example
Separate three or more items (words, phrases, or clauses) in a series

Note: The comma before the final "and" (known as the "serial" comma) is optional because some people learned not to use it. Whether you use it or not, be consistent in your document.
Cameron has three favorite desserts: cherry pie, chocolate mousse, and flan.

Cameron has three favorite desserts: cherry pie, chocolate mousse and flan.

Separate complete thoughts joined by conjunctions such as for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so Today was a sunny day, but the forecast for tomorrow is rain.

Follow introductory clauses or phrases

Although Simon was tired after working late, he went out for dinner.
Enclose the names of people addressed

Tell me, Jatin, when do you think you will move to New York?
Enclose parenthetical expressions that are not enclosed in parentheses

Greg Marcus, our accountant, explained the tax benefits of an IRA.

As soon as Dalia gets her license, which will be in May, we will buy her a car.
Separate nonessential clauses from the rest of the sentence

Owen and Luke played tennis at the Hanson School, the one with the new courts.
Separate items in dates and addresses

The next student council meeting is on December 1, 2007, at 7 p.m.

Casey's new address is 565 Elm Street, Quincy, Massachusetts.
Separate two or more adjectives that equally modify the same noun

Note: To decide if a comma is needed, see if the word and fits between the two adjectives. If it does, replace the and with a comma.
Mr. and Mrs. Devlin live in an old, well-preserved Victorian home.

Mr. and Mrs. Devlin live in an old and well- preserved Victorian home.

Follow the greeting in informal letters and the closing in all letters
Dear Mom,

Follow transitional words or phrases (however, nevertheless, for example) that begin sentences or link two complete thoughts

Therefore, the bank approved the loan.

Ben is a talented football player; however, wrestling is his favorite sport.
Are always placed inside a closing quotation mark according to the preferred American style. The British style places commas outside the closing quotation mark. Aileen sent the package by "Priority Mail," but it still arrived late.

Remember to use one of the following strategies if you are unsure about any grammar and punctuation rule:

  • Find a different way to write the sentence.
  • Check a reliable book or online resource (I can recommend a few).
  • Email me at ilana@ima-associates.com.

Did you know...

All our newsletters are now archived at www.ima-associates.com?

Check them out if you missed or want to review any of them.

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Ilana G. Traverse, Principal

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