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Commas in English

Teachers of English who come to the in-service training courses to Advanced Teacher Training College often ask questions how to punctuate sentences. It is true, English punctuation has never been our strong point. Little attention is paid to it. This piece of material is devoted to commas.

Commas are used:

• to separate words, phrases or clauses in series (before ‘and’ the comma is often left cut)

Two cokes, three glasses of tonic water and an apple juice, please.

An absolutely beautiful, relaxing, totally rejuvenating experience.

I might lose my home, be cut off from my family and end up with no friends.

• before and after phrases or clauses which add extra or unnecessary information to a sentence

Henry, the laziest person in town, was jumping up and down. Old castles, which are often poorly insulated, have a special atmosphere about them.

• to separate adverbial clauses of time (often introduced by when, after, before, by the time (that), directly, during the time (that), immediately the moment (that), once, since, until/till, whenever) and long phrases that come before or in the middle of the main clause

After he got married, Andy changed completely.

Now that it is spring, her mood has improved enormously.

The book, once you’re done with it, can be returned to any branch of the library.

• to separate, from the rest of the sentence, words or phrases that suggest if something is likely or suggest other possibilities (on the contrary, on the other hand), adverbs that act as conjunctions (however, consequently) and words or phrases that introduce examples (namely, for example)

On the other hand, we will soon run out of time.

Most of her friends, however, were rather keen on going swimming.

He could ask his brother to give them a lift, of course. She took everything I had, namely, my watch and my wallet with all my money.

• before a conjunction (and, but, for, or) connecting sentences or full clauses, and between very short clauses that are not connected by a conjunction

He hadn’t worked very hard, but still did well in the exams.

I came, I went home, I came back again.

• sometimes in informal sentences when that is omitted

She runs so fast, no one can catch her.

• to show that a word or words used earlier in the sentence have been left out

Indoor sports are preferred by some; outdoor sports, by many others.

• to separate direct speech from words identifying the speaker and type of speech

“I can bear it no longer,” he said.

“But the options are few,” his girlfriend replied anxiously.

“Still,” he continued cautiously, “I don’t think I have any choice”.

• to separate the name of a person being addressed, or an interjection

You know, Martin, we’re the only ones left.

Damn, I wanted that antique chair.

• before phrases that add emphasis to questions

They live in Liverpool, don’t they?

I’ll just go and get a newspaper, OK?

• to separate opposing and contrasting phrases

We like his style of writing, not its substance.

This isn’t made of from synthetics, it’s pure wool.

• to avoid confusion when two people’s names appear next to each other

For Anna, Marie was the most important person in the world.

• to add emphasis to a phrase at the end of a sentence

The higher you fly, the thinner the air.

• in large numbers (a space can be used instead)

The population in 1990 was 8,566,000.

A commas should not be used:

• in that clauses

It’s clear that it would leave a mess.

That the headmaster is going to retire is only a rumour.

• in indirect questions

We asked whether he would have the time.

• in defining relative clauses

All those who had voted for him cheered.

• in ing-constructions necessary for the meaning of the sentence

We noticed an ape climbing the tree to reach a banana.

• before most dependent clauses and adverbials in end position

I’ve been a member since I was a student.

• before ‘and’ when it is used as a conjunction between phrases

She walked out and called a taxi.

• in decimal numbers like 4.67 (a point is used)

Compiled by Inessa Syromyatnikova ,
School No. 1, Pristen', Kursk Region