Today, we’re going to talk about commas. Now, commas have three main functions: to separate clauses, to join independent clauses, and to avoid confusion. Don’t hesitate to also check our 236 free and powerful practice tests
So, let’s take a look at the first use, to separate clauses. This is when you need to separate a dependent clause from an independent clause, as is the case with this sentence.
“Michael went to the beach, after he got ice cream.”
“Michael went to the beach” is the independent clause, and “after he got ice cream” is the dependent clause.
Now, to test whether a clause is a dependent clause, it is to just read that clause by itself.
So, if we were to read “after he got ice cream“, we had realized that’s a dependent clause. It’s dependent on the independent clause to make sense, because if I just say “after he got ice cream“, that doesn’t make very much sense. You’re thinking, “Okay, what happened after he got ice cream?”
So, “Michael went to the beach” is the independent clause, because it can stand by itself, and “after he got ice cream” is the dependent clause.
Now, dependent clauses can actually come before or after the independent clause. In fact, they can actually come inside the independent clause as well.
So, we could reverse this sentence, and we could say:
“After he got ice cream, Michael went to the beach.”
There again, “After he got ice cream” is still the dependent clause, and “Michael went to the beach” is still the independent clause. The sentence is just constructed differently.
Now, a second use for commas is to join independent clauses. This is when, basically, you have two sentences that are closely related, and you want to join them together.
So, if we were to say:
“Taylor plays basketball.”
And then, we also had another sentence:
“He enjoys running.”
We can easily join those two together. There’s a couple ways to do that, but one of the ways is to use a comma, and a conjunction.
So, we can say:
“Taylor plays basketball, and he enjoys running.”
The comma helps bring these two sentences together, and it helps you realize what’s happening when you’re adding two sentences together.
Now, the third use is to avoid confusion. There’s a couple of times when you want to do this.
First would be when you’re putting words in a list, or items in a list.
So, if I were to say:
“I got a baseball, bike, and trampoline.”
I need commas to separate all three of the items. Now, sometimes, you can leave the second comma off, and that can be fine as well, but you need at least one comma in here, so people realize that it’s a list, because if I don’t have a comma right here, it just looks like I got a “baseball bike“, and people are trying to figure out what is a “baseball bike“.
Now, most people can pretty much figure out what you’re trying to say, but a comma right there makes it so much easier for the reader, because they can easily look at this and think, “Okay, you got a baseball, a bike, and a trampoline.”
Now, another time that you need a comma to avoid confusion is when someone who’s just reading the sentence could easily get it mixed up.
Okay, so if I were to say:
“After we ate, our dad left for work.”
Okay. So, with the comma in here, it’s easy to read that. “After we ate, our dad went to work.” The family was eating, they got finished, and the dad left for work. Okay.
But, if the comma’s not there, you make it kind of confusing. The first time someone reads this, they’re going to think, “After we ate our dad left for work.” And so, they’re thinking, “Wait, they ate their dad?” No, of course not, and a reader eventually is probably going to figure out what the person’s trying to convey that wrote the sentence, but it makes it so much easier if you have a comma right here because it makes it so much easier for the reader to understand what’s going on.
And sometimes, in certain cases, if a writer leaves out a comma, it can make it very hard, almost impossible for the reader to try to understand what the writer was trying to convey.
And, as a writer, any time you’re writing something, you want to convey things in such a way that people can easily read them and pick up what you’re trying to convey.
Alright. So, then again, commas, three main uses: to separate clauses, to join independent clauses, and to avoid confusion.Practice tests help you remember. Take this mini-test to solidify your memory.