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Category : Punctuation Rules

Using Commas

Commas are one of the most widely used punctuation marks in written English. While some basic rules of comma usage may be rigid, there are contexts in a sentence when using a comma could be optional. Commas, nevertheless, are known to offer clarity to a sentence and therefore, must be used wherever appropriate.

Here is a broad categorization of Comma Rules:

  • Commas, while listing items in a sentence.


Johnny’s coffee estate also had cardamom, pepper, cinnamon and other cash crops.

He will spend his pocket money to buy clothes, books, shoes and also go watch a movie.

The award function was attended by film personalities, business tycoons, socialites, and sports personalities.

In the third example, a comma before “and” may be necessary to clearly distinguish between socialites and sports personalities as two separate sets of people.

  • A comma, to link two independent clauses with conjunctions such as “but,” “and,” “or,” “yet,” “for,” “nor,” etc.


My project was rejected, but I still think it deserved a chance.

Danny along with his family was supposed to land here two days ago, yet there is no sign of him.

  • A comma, to replace “and” between 2 adjectives.


The country has a frail, malnourished healthcare system.

The hot, humid Maldives will be the first casualty of global warming.

  • A comma, before names and designations that are directly addressed.


Dr. Smith, MD.

Don’t worry, Mrs. Annie, I will have your book published.

  • A comma, between days of a month and year.


January 13, 2010.

  • A comma, between cities, states, and the country.


The weather in Bangalore, India is just great.

  • A comma, before beginning a quote.


The officer said, “Please take your seat.”

  • A comma, after setting off an introductory word, or a phrase.


Yes, my husband is a surgeon.

You see, all of us are remotely related to each other.

  • Commas, after words like “Therefore,” “However,” etc.


She was, however, the brightest student in class.

Nevertheless, that was the last resort.

  • A comma, between contrasting sentences.


The judge overruled the contention of the prosecutor, not of the accused.

  • A comma, before and after a set of words that interrupts the flow of the sentence but offer additional information in the sentence.


The animals in the zoo, which seemed quite underfed, looked dull and weak.

You have, if you are aware, won the prize.

  • A comma, after an adverbial clause in a sentence. An adverbial clause is a clause that functions as an adverb.


She stared into her PC, unsure of what was in store for her.

Sitting on the couch, little Jonny’s eyes were stuck to the television.

  • A comma, after conditional clause or a comma after a weak/dependent clause leading to a strong clause of the sentence.


If you want some help, do let me know.

Since I am not keeping well, I will not be able to attend office today.

  • Some commas are necessary by common sense: not using commas when appropriate may entirely change the meaning of the sentence.


I knew she met with an accident, because mom messaged me this morning.

Without the comma use after accident, the sentence would read like: I knew she met with an accident because mom messaged me this morning. It seems as if she met with the accident because mom called the subject.

Quotation Marks

Quotation marks are inverted commas used to quote or exactly set off a sentence, word or phrase that is directly lifted from another source – person or anything else. Quotation marks often go in pairs:  one pair—“—to open quote, and the other pair—”—to close quote.

Example: Holding the thief at gunpoint, the policeman said, “Hands up!” Here, the words—hands up—are the exact words uttered by the policeman (and not the person writing the sentence). Here, “Hands up” is a direct quote and therefore needs quotation marks.

A direct quote can be rephrased or converted into an indirect quote. Indirect quotes do not have quotation marks.

Example: Holding the thief at gunpoint, the policeman asked him to surrender.

More examples:

  • “Where in the world is Neel?” said Uncle Dan.

Uncle Dan wanted to know where in the world Neel was.

  • The lady said, “It is indeed my privilege to meet Mrs. Brown.”

The lady said that is was indeed her privilege to meet Mrs. Brown.

Note that the first letter of the first word in the quote is capitalized always. Also, the period (full stop), comma or the question mark accompanying the closing quotes precedes (and not succeeds) the closing inverted commas. This is an established American rule for using quotation marks. The British system uses the punctuation mark after the closing quotes.

While most of the direct quotes can be converted into indirect quotes, as suggested in the examples above, there are still some phrases that cannot do without quotes even in its indirect version.


The teacher said, “Children loved watching `Jurassic Park’ yesterday.”

The teacher said that the children loved watching “Jurassic Park” yesterday.

Note that the phrase—Jurassic Park—is a title/name of a film and therefore cannot be modified without the inverted commas even if the sentence involving the phrase is converted into an indirect quote. But when the title gets a mention within a direct quote, the quotation mark for the title may be represented by a single inverted comma each—and not a pair—to open and close the quote (refer example above).

For the sake of clarity, keep quotes short. If the quote is unavoidably long, then use the quote as a separate paragraph, appropriately attributing the quote to the source before beginning the paragraph.

The difference between “.” and “,”

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