Are you ready to embark on a journey of many months that will leave you more grammatically knowledgeable? Of course you are! Over the next couple of months on my grammar rule posting days, I will be sharing the many and complicated rules of commas as I attempt to learn exactly what to do with these pesky little punctuation marks. With any luck our quest will be successful. May our journey through the land of commas begin!
Commas in a List:
Bill the Pony walked up the hill, trotted across the field, and ran through the gate into the Shire.
The first rule today is about commas in a list. The rule seems fairly straight forward: when you have three or more items in a list, you should use commas between the items to avoid confusion. While everyone can agree that there should be commas between the first two items, there is an all out war about the third comma, more properly called the Oxford comma. This little comma is a source of great strife among grammar lovers everywhere. Some want to remove this comma, while others want it to remain. What it all boils down to is that you can chose to use the Oxford comma or not to use the Oxford comma. However you chose to punctuate your lists is up to you, as long as you’re consistent in your usage. I personally use the Oxford comma, so my examples in this post will include the third comma. If you’d like to know a bit more about this war, here’s a great video from TEDEd which you can find here.
Thranduil, Tauriel, and Legolas are all elves from Mirkwood.
Now that the confusion over the Oxford comma is cleared up, we can continue on our little journey. In this example, there are three elves in this list, which means commas are needed between them to avoid confusion.
Kili and Fili are brothers.
In this sentence, there are only two dwarves in the list, so there is no need to add a comma.
Commas and Conjunctions:
Legolas fired at the orc with the bomb, but he missed.
The second rule is about commas and conjunctions. This rule is pretty straight forward as well: when there are two independent clauses joined together with a conjunction, a comma is needed before the conjunction. The hardest part about this rule is the terms. A conjunction is a word that joins two other words or clauses together. “And,” “but,” and “or” are all examples of conjunctions. An independent clause is a clause that has a subject and a verb and expresses a complete thought so it can stand on its own in the world of grammar.
You can tell if a clause is independent by reading the two clauses separately without the conjunction in the middle. “Legolas fired at the orc” is a full sentence. “He missed” is also a full sentence. So, in this case, there are two independent clauses, and there is a conjunction connecting them. Therefore, there needs to be a comma before the conjunction.
Legolas and Tauriel were not in The Hobbit book.
In this example, the conjunction “and” is not connecting two independent clauses. Neither “Legolas” nor “Tauriel” are full sentences by themselves, so no comma is needed between the two.
Smaug is fire, and he is also death.
Both “Smaug is fire” and “he is also death” have subjects and verbs and express complete thoughts. That means a comma is needed before the conjunction.
Here’s another great TEDEd video about commas and conjunctions, which you can find here.
Thanks for reading!