When to Use a Comma in a Sentence

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Using commas in sentences is appropriate to combine two complete sentences, to list a series of items, to separate a direct quotation or to add in extra information. Learn to use commas properly in various types of sentences with grammar help from a creative writing instructor in this free video on writing.

Part of the Video Series: Using Commas
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Video Transcript

Hi, I'm here to talk about when to use a comma in a sentence. There are a number of different ways that you would use a comma. For example, here, you're joining two complete sentences into one sentence with a comma and a coordinating conjunction. So "The sun shone brightly" -- that's a complete sentence with its own subject and verb, and so is "The temperature was only 20 degrees." But because those ideas are related, you can connect them to show that they're connected. Another way that you would use commas in a sentence that's very common is when you have a series or a list of three or more things. So in this case, "music, movies, and books." We talked about music, comma, movies, comma, and books. Another occasion where you would use a comma is if you have a direct quotation with quotation marks around it. So here, for example, "I want to know," said Steve, "who ate my sandwich." So you have two pieces here that are in quotation marks. You'll put a comma inside the quotation marks and if you have a tag like "said Steve," you'll put the comma before the quotation marks. Just remember it typically goes before the quotation marks, whether that's inside or before it starts. So you'll also use commas in a sentence when you have what's called a non-restrictive element. That is information that you could take out of the sentence and the sentence would still retain its same meaning. "My mother, who lives in Iowa, visited me last week." I only have one mother so you know who I'm talking about. My mother visited me last week. Mother is the subject, visited is the verb. It's not going to lose any meaning if you take out the fact that she lives in Iowa. That's just extra information. On the other hand, "My friend who lives in Maine called yesterday." Let's say I have friends living in all different states. This tells you specifically which friend it was, so that would actually change the sentence. You wouldn't know which friend I was talking about if I took that out. So when it's not necessary to the sentence, you would put commas around it. Think of it: If you can take it out, put commas around it, and if not, don't.


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