I used to think I knew how to use commas (,). They are marks you put after words where you want to indicate a pause, right? Well, not exactly! Huh? How then do you use commas?
I have been made to understand that there no less than four different kinds of commas. No wonder commas are probably the punctuation mark most misused in the English language: there are so many of them! Here are the four kinds of commas:
- Listing comma (used in lists)
- Joining comma (used to join sentences)
- Gaping comma (used to replace words that would be repeated)
- Isolating comma (used set-off a soft interruptions)
In this post I will try to explain the listing comma.
The general rule is that listing commas replace the words and or or to make the sentence more elegant. For example:
He seems to live only on tobacco and alcohol and loud rock music.
This sentence will be less cumbersome when written this way.
He seems to live only on tobacco, alcohol and loud rock music
Simple, huh? But listing commas are also used where we encounter a list of phrases. For example
You may be served a notice of termination by registered post, by courier service, by email or by fax.
Again, not so difficult, right? However, listing commas are also used when we see a list of complete sentences. Take a look at the following example
I played guitar, Jimmy played bass, Amir played the drums and Jane played all of us.
There are two things to note:
- There is no white space before the comma
- There is no comma before and or or
However, we may be required to insert a comma before an and whenever doing so would make the meaning clearer. Check this one out
I don’t like listening to Lobo, Prince, and Donny and Marie.
By slapping the comma after Prince we make it clear that it is Donny and Marie who work as a team: not Prince and Donny.
Hope this has been useful to you. In subsequent postings I will try to share with you what I know about joining commas.