Commas

The comma (,) is used to indicate a short pause in a sentence. This pause helps to make the meaning clear to the reader. There are many rules for using commas. Most academic writing tasks use the following:

Grammar checkers will not help you much with your commas. Sometimes, you will see a green line to warn you to check for missing commas. This is a useful signal but may be incorrect or it may miss them altogether. You will need to proofread your work and apply the rules for using commas correctly in your writing.

Use commas after sentence introducers

If a sentence starts with an adverb or transition word, phrase or clause, you will need a comma to separate it from the main clause.

Recently, the smoking laws changed to prohibit adults from smoking in the presence of children in vehicles. Consequently, most adult smokers changed their behaviour when travelling with children. Until 2008, society criticised the habit of smoking in vehicles with child passengers instead of legislating against the practice. Unless there is government legislation to protect the health of children, some adults are not prepared to sacrifice their smoking habits for the welfare of their underage passengers.

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Use commas with sentence coordinators

The comma rule

If you are joining independent clauses to write compound sentences, use a comma before ‘and’, ‘but’, ‘for’, ‘or’, ‘nor’, ‘so’, ‘yet’.

Petrol prices are rising daily, and many people are struggling to meet costs in their daily lives. Price increases may stimulate a search for a cheaper alternative, but this does not always happen.

 

The semicolon and comma rule

If you are joining independent clauses to write compound sentences, use a semicolon before and a comma after connecting conjunctions like ‘also’, ‘however’, ‘instead’, ‘meanwhile’, ‘moreover’, ‘namely’, ‘now’, ‘otherwise’, ‘similarly’, ‘still’, ‘then’, ‘therefore’, ‘thus’.

The government made desperate attempts to control petrol prices; meanwhile, families and businesses suffered economic hardship.

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Use commas for sentence inserters or interrupters

When you insert a non-restrictive word, phrase or relative clause (conveying non-essential information) into the middle of sentences, use a pair of commas to separate the information.

The highest mountain, Kosciuszko, was covered in snow during the winter months. It was, however, a sea of wild flowers and native plants in summer. The great mountain climber, Jack Peterson, visited the area in all seasons.

The climbers, mostly from Victoria, faced the harshest conditions on their trek across the mountain peak.

The alpine rangers, who were really quite fearless, rescued many lost mountaineers. The conditions, which could be hazardous, did not daunt them.

Exception

You do not use a pair of commas if the information in the inserter is essential to the meaning of the sentence (restrictive element).

The mountain climbers who were lost in the snow storm were found the next day huddled in a makeshift snow shelter. 

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Use commas as separators in lists

When you are listing items, use a comma to separate each item. Do not use a comma for the last two items joined by ‘and’ unless longer items (e.g. phrases) on the list are confusing. Also, if you add information to the end of a sentence, use a comma to link the added information to the rest of the sentence.

Plastics, glass bottles, paper and tins were listed for the recycling of waste program in the local community. 

The project was supported by the local residents, district clubs and community groups, and the neighbourhood schools

The local council set up a recycling program as part of its environmental rejuvenation project, which could work well if community members cooperate .

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Rules to avoid unnecessary use of commas

Do not put a comma between the subject and its verb.

INCORRECT: Government policies about conservation in Australian states X , vary considerably.

CORRECT: Government policies about conservation in Australia states vary considerably.

Do not use a comma before and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet if you use the word that.

INCORRECT: Many Australian politicians realise that some State conservation laws are ineffectual X , and that these laws would be more potent if they were moved to a Commonwealth jurisdiction.

CORRECT: Many Australian politicians realise that some State conservation laws are ineffectual and that these laws would be more potent if they were moved to a Commonwealth jurisdiction.

Do not use commas to attach dependent adverbial clauses to the end of an independent clause.

INCORRECT: Conservation laws were passed back to the Commonwealth X , because State laws were inconsistent.

CORRECT: Conservation laws were passed back to the Commonwealth because State laws were inconsistent.

 

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