4) Commas

The Comma

Contents

The comma is used to separate many different parts of a sentence. There are a wide range of examples where they can be used, which we will explore next, looking at some common errors along the way.

1) When to use the comma

Commas are used to:

1.1 Separate two independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction.

An independent clause is a group of one or more words which has a subject-verb relationship and can work alone to express a complete thought. For example:

It is very cold today.

A coordinating conjunction is a word which links two independent clauses and the main ones are ‘and’ ‘but’, ‘for’, ‘nor’, ‘or’ and ‘yet.’ An example of two independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction with a comma separating them is:

It is verb cold today, but I brought a coat.

Here we have the independent clause ‘it is very cold today’ + a comma + the coordinating conjunction ‘but’ + the second independent clause ‘I brought a coat’. Remember to put the comma before the coordinating conjunction, not after.

1.2 To separate words, phrases or clauses in a series when there are 3 or more items

Commas are also used to separate words, phrases or clauses in a series when there are 3 or more items. This helps to make the list more manageable to read, and signifies the items are different thus preventing us from getting them mixed up.

Firstly, when there are less than three items, we can just list them without a comma, as in:

I am going to the supermarket to get bread and cheese.

However, once we get to three, or more, we have to add commas, as in:

I am going to the supermarket to get bread, cheese and olive oil.

Note that we have three items here: the nouns ‘bread’ and ‘cheese’ and the noun phrase ‘olive oil’, and these items have been separated by a comma after ‘bread’. It can also be written with one more comma, after the second item ‘cheese’, as in:

I am going to the supermarket to get bread, cheese, and olive oil.

Notice how there is now a comma after ‘bread’ and after ‘cheese’. The first method is more common in the UK, while the second is more common in the US. Both of these methods can have their benefits. The latter method with the second comma – known as the Oxford comma – is sometimes useful to make the separation more clear. For example, take this sentence:

My favourite pubs are Paddy’s, Smithy’s and The fox and hounds.

Because the final item ‘The fox and hounds’ has ‘and’ within it, it can get a bit confusing. What we actually have here are 3 items which are all the names of pubs:

1) Paddy’s

2) Smithy’s

3) The fox and hounds

However, because of the lack of the second comma, one could become confused and instead think it is:

1) Paddy’s

2) Smithy’s

3) The fox

4) hounds (though the lack of a capital letter here is a sign that this isn’t a separate place)

The second comma helps to prevent this, as in:

My favourite pubs are Paddy’s, Smithy’s, and The fox and hounds.

Nevertheless, this confusion shouldn’t of really happened in the first place for two reasons:

1) ‘hound’ doesn’t have a capital letter in front of it, whereas the others do. Capital letters are often used at the beginning of place names, such as ‘London’.

2) There should only be one ‘and’ when we are expressing a list like this. This ‘and’ should go before the last thing in the list. However, there are two in the above sentence.

3) This is being a bit picky, but if ‘Hounds’ were a pub, it would probably be written:

Hound’s.

This is because it is likely to be a possessive, like ‘Paddy’s’ and ‘Smithy’s’.

Considering these three factors, this is what the sentence would probably look like if there were four separate pubs:

My favourite pubs are Paddy’s, Smithy’s, The fox and Hound’s.

Though, admittedly, this would probably still be clearer with the third comma, as in

My favourite pubs are Paddy’s, Smithy’s, The fox, and Hound’s.

For a similar reason, while we don’t generally use a comma in between two items, sometimes we do to prevent this problem, as in:

My favourite pubs are The fox and hounds and The horse and hare.

This might be clearer as:

My favourite pubs are The fox and hounds, and The horse and hare.

One problem which arises for people who are used to the comma before ‘and’ is when the final product in the list has an appositive noun surrounded by commas, as in:

My favourite pubs are Paddy’s, Smithy’s, The fox, the pub I was born in, and Hound’s.

The problem here is that if we are used to having a comma before ‘and’, the noun phrase ‘the pub I was born in’ is ambiguous; it could mean:

1) A fourth pub which the writer was born in

2) The pub called ‘The fox’ is where the writer was born.

In contrast, if we don’t usually have that comma before the ‘and’, we are more likely to see it as the second meaning: the pub called ‘the fox’ is where the writer was born. One way of solving this is to use brackets, or dashes, as in:

My favourite pubs are Paddy’s, Smithy’s, The fox – the pub I was born in – and Hound’s.

My favourite pubs are Paddy’s, Smithy’s, The fox (the pub I was born in) and Hound’s.

The job we have is to analyse our sentences and to use the amount of commas which produce the clearest product possible.

Just to show that we can list clauses as well, here is a list of four clauses:

I will bring the drink, you will bring the food, John will bring the games console and Jane will bring the extra screens.

Here we have four clauses with commas in between to separate them.

Finally, just to show how unclear writing can be without these commas separating items, here is one more example:

I am going to the supermarket to get cheese bread tomato ketchup soup chocolate cookie ice cream and coffee.

Notice how this could mean a number of different items? Take a look at some examples with the commas in different places:

I am going to the supermarket to get cheese, bread, tomato ketchup, soup, chocolate, cookie ice cream, and coffee.

I am going to the supermarket to get cheese bread, tomato ketchup soup, chocolate cookie ice cream, and coffee.

1.3 To separate two or more coordinate adjectives (adjectives which equally modify the same noun)

Commas can also be used to separate two, or more, coordinate adjectives. Coordinate adjectives are adjectives which equally modify the same noun. For example:

John was an honest, trustworthy friend

Here we have the coordinate adjectives ‘John’ and ‘trustworthy’, which are modifying the noun ‘friend’ in equal amounts. You are probably wondering what modifying something equally means. One way of showing this is to insert ‘and’ in between the two words. If this still makes sense, then they are coordinate adjectives. For example:

John was an honest and trustworthy friend.

This works because ‘and’ is a coordinate conjunction – which are words that link two items, including words, phrases and clauses, that have equal grammatical weighting.

Because they are equal, it is also often easy to switch them around, and not change the meaning, as in:

John was a trustworthy, honest friend.

Another way of showing what we mean by equal modification is to discuss cumulative adjectives. Cumulative adjectives describe a situation where the adjective closest to the noun pairs with it because it is modifying it more strongly. For example:

John is the new French teacher.

Note that there are no commas here. This allows us to show that the adjective ‘French’ is more strongly modifying the noun ‘teacher’ than the adjective phrase ‘the new’, making these a pair of cumulative adjectives.

We could make them, equal, however, by putting in commas:

John is the new, French, teacher.

Adding the commas now means the ‘the new’ and ‘French’ are equally modifying ‘teacher’. Note how this has changed the meaning of the sentence. Before it was a new teacher that is teaching French, now it is a new teacher who is of French nationality. Interestingly, it feels much clearer to have ‘French’ surrounded by commas here, whereas in the first example we just had one comma. I think this is because of the potential for ‘French’ and ‘teacher’ to be strongly linked, in a cumulative fashion, which means surrounding ‘French’ with commas makes it extra clear that it is not more strongly linking with ‘teacher’ than ‘the new’.

Let’s try inserting ‘and’ in again to see what happens:

John is the new and French teacher.

Note how the meaning of this is the same as the sentence with commas (‘John is the new, French, teacher.’) and different to the sentence with the cumulative adjectives (‘John is the new French teacher.’) This is because the cumulative adjectives example has two adjectives that are not equally modifying the noun ‘teacher’, so adding ‘and’ doesn’t work, whereas our second, coordinate adjective, example, which has the commas, makes both adjectives equal, and this means adding ‘and’ in won’t change the meaning. This would probably be written with commas around ‘and French’, as in:

John is the new, and French, teacher.

Let’s also try switching these around, as we did with the coordinate adjective example:

John is the French new teacher.

Again, note how this has a different meaning from our cumulative adjective example (John is the new French teacher.’) but appears to have the same meaning as our coordinate adjective one (‘John is the new, French, teacher.’).

1.4 Use a comma in certain circumstances when ‘because’ heads the subordinate clause

There are a couple of circumstances where ‘because’ heads the subordinate clause where a comma can be useful:

1.4.1 Use a comma if we have an independent/main clause with a negative verb construction + ‘because’ at the beginning of a subordinate clause it is being linked to

A comma is also often used when we have an independent/main clause with a negative verb construction + ‘because’ at the beginning of a subordinate clause it is being linked to. For example:

John isn’t going to the party because he hates everyone there.

Here we have the main clause ‘John isn’t going to the party’, which has the negative verb construction ‘isn’t’, and the subordinate clause ‘because he hates everyone there’, which has ‘because’ at the head of it. This can be confusing because there could be two interpretations of this:

1) He doesn’t like the people that are going to be at the party, therefore, he isn’t going to the party.

2) He isn’t going to the party because he hates people; he is going for some other reason.

Admittedly, the second example seems unlikely in this scenario because it would be a bit of an obvious statement. Nevertheless, it is clearer to write:

John isn’t going to the party, because he hates everyone there.

Separating them like this makes it clearer that our first interpretation is the intended meaning.

1.4.2 Any other time ‘because’ is ambiguous

Confusion can also be caused with ‘because’ in other circumstances. For example:

I knew Jane had organised me a surprise party because she was acting different recently.

This could mean:

1) Jane’s recent actions have made it obvious to the writer that she has organised him a surprise party.

2) The reason Jane had organised the party is because she has been acting differently recently. This could mean that it isn’t like Jane to organise a party, and the reason she has is because of some change in her psychology.

So,  if we want to make it clear we intend interpretation 1, we use: 

I knew Jane had organized me a surprise party, because she was acting different recently.

1.5 To set off words, phrases or clauses from the rest of the sentence

We often use commas to set off various words, phrases or clauses from the rest of the sentence. Let’s look at some examples of that:

1.5.1 Using a comma to set off an introductory adverb or adverbial clause

Adverbs modify verbs, adjectives or other adverbs. They can also be used to introduce a sentence, where they often seem to be modifying the entire sentence. When they do, a comma is often used to set the adverb off from the rest of the sentence, as in:

Unfortunately, Jane will arrive late tonight.

Here the adverb ‘unfortunately’ is introducing the sentence, and seemingly modifying the entire rest of the sentence. There are some circumstances where not doing this can cause problems, as in:

Unfortunately broken laptops can not be repaired here.

This could be misconstrued as meaning ‘laptops which have been unfortunately broken.’ The comma corrects this, as in:

Unfortunately, broken laptops can not be repaired here.

Do we use the comma if the adverb is at the end of the sentence? This doesn’t appear to be as common; however, the same issue could occur if we don’t, in certain situations, such as:

We cannot repair laptops that have been broken unfortunately.

In this situation it seems clearer to write:

We cannot repair laptops that have been broken, unfortunately.

In reality, this probably sounds better with ‘unfortunately’ at the beginning anyway.

The same rule applies for adverb clauses, which are subordinate clauses that begin with subordinating conjunctions like ‘until’, ‘before’ ‘when’ and ‘while’ and answer questions like ‘how?’, ‘where?’, ‘when?’ and ‘how much?’ For example:

When the food is ready, I will bring it out.

Here the adverbial clause ‘when the food is ready’ has a comma in front of it to set it off from the rest of the sentence. Note it is a subordinate clause because it cannot stand alone as a thought, whereas the rest of the sentence makes up a main clause which can stand alone as a complete thought. How about if it was the other way around? Often the comma will be left out in this case, as in:

I will bring the food out when it is ready.

I wonder how it sounds with the comma still in? Let’s take a look:

I will bring the food out, when it is ready.

This is very subtle, but perhaps that comma adds a slight change in tone which makes the speaker sounds a little bit annoyed. Imagine the kids are screaming for their dinner and the parent replies:

I will bring the food out, when it is ready.

That pause seems to express an emphasis on the final ‘when it is ready’ to me.

There are also other situations where a comma is important when the subordinate clause is at the end. For example, when using adverbs of concession, such as ‘although’, ‘though’, ‘even though’, ‘even if’, ‘while’ and ‘whereas’, it is often clearer to use a comma. This is because these adverbs set up a contrast, which makes the separation of the comma – and the pause that comes with it – a good idea. For example:

I will bring the food out, although you aren’t getting any.

I will bring the food out although you aren’t getting any.

I think I prefer the first one with the comma before ‘although.’ Both are acceptable, however.

It is worth paying attention when using these adverbs of concession because a comma doesn’t always make sense. For example, ‘while’ sometimes doesn’t create a contrasting sentence, as in:

John waited at the bus stop while every bus came by but his.

Note that ‘while’ isn’t really creating a contrast here; it is more saying:

John waited at the bus stop as every bus came by but his.

However, there are times where ‘while’ will create that contrast, as in:

John waited at the bus stop for an hour, while Jane drove home in 5 minutes.

In this sentence ‘while’ is creating a contrast. It is similar to saying:

John waited at the bus stop for an hour, whereas Jane drove home in 5 minutes.

1.5.2 Using a comma to set off an introductory verbal phrase (infinitive, participle, or gerund)

An infinitive is usually ‘to’ + the base form of the verb, and they can work as verbal nouns, adjectives or adverbs. An example of an introductory infinitive phrase being set off by a comma is:

To help his brother, John gave him a job in his company.

Here the introductory infinitive phrase ‘to help his brother’ has a comma setting it off from the main clause ‘John gave him a job in his company.’

Verbal phrases can also begin with past and present participles.

Past participles are formed from the base form of a verb, and are used either as adjectives or to help form the perfect and perfect progressive verb tenses. An example of an introductory past participle phrase being set off by a comma is:

Finished for the day, Ben took the bus home.

Here we have the past participle phrase ‘finished for the day’ being set off by a comma from the main clause ‘Ben took the bus home’.

Present participles are formed by taking the base form of the verb and adding ‘ing’ to either help form the progressive and perfect progressive tenses, or to work as adjectives. An example of an introductory present participle phrase being set off by a comma is:

Swimming for her life, Jane fled the shoal of jellyfish.

Here we have the present participle phrase ‘swimming for her life’ being set off from the main clause ‘Jane fled the shoal of jellyfish’ by a comma.

Gerunds can also head verbal phrases. A gerund is a verbal noun which takes the base form of the verb and adds ‘ing’ on the end to work as a noun. Because they work as nouns, it is much less common to have them be set off by a comma. An example of an introductory gerund phrase is:

Swimming the channel is a very difficult task.

Here we have the gerund phrase ‘swimming the channel’, which has no comma after it. Replacing the gerund phrase – which works as a noun and can therefore be replaced by a pronoun – with a pronoun should help show why a comma would be unusual after a gerund phrase:

Swimming the channel is a very difficult task.

It is a very difficult ask

So while:

Swimming the channel, is a very difficult task

might not seem that odd, it’s pronoun counterpart:

It, is a very difficult task.

perhaps show more clearly that the comma is unnecessary.

1.5.3 It is uncommon to use a comma to set off an introductory prepositional phrase

It is less common to use a comma to set off an introductory prepositional phrase. For example:

On the roof there is a gorilla.

Here the prepositional phrase ‘on the roof’ is shown without a comma to set it off from the rest of the sentence.

1.5.4 Using a comma to set off an absolute phrase anywhere in the sentence

An absolute phrase is a phrase which modifies the whole clause and which doesn’t fit into the other phrase types mentioned. Absolute phrases usually have commas before them at the beginning of the sentence, on either side in the middle of a sentence, and before them if at the end of a sentence. For example:

His concentration ruined, Ben stopped studying and slumped in front of the TV.

Ben stopped studying, his concentrated ruined, and slumped in front of the TV.

Ben stopped studying and slumped in front of the TV, his concentration ruined.

Note how much less clear all of these sentences are with the commas taken out:

His concentration ruined Ben stopped studying and slumped in front of the TV.

Ben stopped studying his concentrated ruined and slumped in front of the TV.

Ben stopped studying and slumped in front of the TV his concentration ruined.

1.5.5 Using a comma to set off an appositive word or phrase

Appositives rename, or further describe, the noun in the sentence, adding extra detail to it. They always have commas on either side of them. For example:

The postman, John, is scarily punctual.

An example with a phrase would be:

John, the postman who is never late, will be here in 32 seconds.

Note how both of these would be much less clear without a comma in between:

The postman John is scarily punctual.

John the postman who is never late will be here in 32 seconds.

1.5.6 Use commas on either side of any other sort of parenthetical word or phrase

We also use commas for any other word, phrase, or clause that modifies a whole sentence. For example:

Their business, however, seemed doomed from the start.

This works in a similar way to the absolute phrase, with ‘however’ modifying the whole sentence.

Other examples are mild interjections, such as:

Excuse me, which way is the hospital?

I say ‘mild’ because strong interjections may use an exclamation mark, as in:

‘You! Stop right there!’

Another example of a comma offsetting something is the following answer to a question:

Yes, I would love to have dinner with you.

1.5.7 Commas to set off non-restrictive clauses, but no comma for restrictive clauses

Relative clauses are dependent clauses which are called so because they are introduced by a relative pronoun (that, which, whichever, who, whoever, whom, whomever, whose, and of which). These types of clauses can be restrictive, or non-restrictive.

Non-restrictive clauses are so called because the subject is not being ‘restricted’. In other words, they are not essential to the sentence, and so are another form of parenthetical statement. As we saw before, parenthetical statements always have commas both before and after. This is partly because these types of words, phrases or clauses can be discarded with little change to the sentence. So we mainly just have to remember that any words, clauses or phrases which are non-essential to the sentence are offset by commas. I put non-restrictive clauses in a separate section only because this specific example of a parenthetical statement is an easy one to get wrong. Let’s look at some examples of restrictive and non-restrictive sentences next to each other:

Restrictive: The football pitch that is uneven is most difficult to play on.

Non-restrictive: The football pitch, which is owned by the local council, is difficult to play on.

Note how ‘that is uneven’ is essential to the sentence because it is describing the reason why the pitch is difficult to play on. In contrast, ‘which is owned by the local council’ is not so important because it doesn’t seem to be as important in the difficulty of the pitch to play on – it is more of an aside. An interesting way of checking this is to try and remove clauses in bold, and see how much the sentence has changed:

Restrictive: The football pitch is most difficult to play on.

Non-restrictive: The football pitch is difficult to play on.

The first example has lost the most; in this example I feel like asking ‘what football pitch?’ This is partly because of the adjective ‘most’, which feels like it needs a more specific phrase before it. In contrast, the second sentence doesn’t feel like it has lost that much. Therefore, the non-restrictive clause was not essential to the sentence and can be offset by commas, whereas the restrictive one was, and cannot be offset by commas.

Relative clauses can also modify entire clauses, or even a series of entire clauses. In this situation, where they modify the entire clauses before them, they are sometimes called sentential clauses, and usually begin with ‘which’ preceded by a comma. For example:

The mountains were beautiful, which made him not want to leave.

Note how the sentential clause ‘which made him not want to leave’ is modifying the previous clause ‘The mountains were beautiful’, and has a comma before ‘which’.

An example of a sentential clause offset against multiple clauses is:

John will be going travelling for a year tomorrow, and his brother will be leaving for university the day after, which is why everyone is getting together for a big goodbye party.

Note how the sentential clause ‘which is why everyone is getting together for a big goodbye party’ is modifying the previous two clauses, and has a comma before ‘which’.

1.5.8 Nouns of direct address

Nouns which name the person being addressed always have a comma before them. For example:

John, please pass me the salt.

This can also be a noun phrase, as in:

Members of the audience, please give a round of applause to the commonly named Mr John Smith.

Another example is for a rather rude use of the pronoun ‘you’:

You, pass me the salt.

And a final example is for a list of nouns:

Christians, Muslims, atheists, agnostics, tonight we will debate the existence of God.

1.5.9 At the beginning and end of a letter

At the beginning – in the salutation – we would write something like:

Dear Jane,

and at the end – in the compliment – we might write:

Yours sincerely, 

1.5.10 Setting off the speaker of a quote

Commas can also be used in the middle of a quote, to tell us who is speaking:

‘The world’, said John, ‘gets weirder every day.’

1.6 To separate the year from the rest of the date

Most sources seem to say that there should be a comma when there are numbers, or words, next to each other in a date. For example:

His birthday is June 9th, 1952.

I will see you on Friday, November 20th.

There is more debate about whether to use commas when there are numbers next to words. Some say it should be:

His birthday is 9th June 1952.

I met him in November 1981.

While others think it should be:

His birthday is 9th June, 1952.

I met him in November, 1981.

As always, if you are writing something formal, check any style guide they have.

1.7 To separate geographical places

We also use commas to separate geographical places, as in:

The address is 93 Smith Street, Westminster, London.

1.8 To separate two opposing statements

We also sometimes use commas to separate two opposing statements, as in:

Years of hard work, not a thing to show for it.

2) When not to use a comma

2.1 To separate the subject from the verb

We must not use a comma to separate a subject and its verb. For example, it should be:

Technology is getting scarier by the day.

Here we have a subject, ‘Technology’, and its verb ‘is’. Putting a comma to separate these two, as in

Technology, is getting scarier by the day. (incorrect)

would be wrong.

However, it is important to remember that if there is a non-restrictive / parenthetical element after the subject, then it should still be separated by the verb via two commas, as in:

Technology, especially Artificial Intelligence and Biotechnology, is getting scarier by the day.

Here we have the subject ‘Technology’ being separated from its verb ‘is’ by the parenthetical phrase ‘especially Artificial Intelligence and Biotechnology’.

2.2 To separate an adjective or adverb from the adjacent word it modifies

We don’t use commas to separate an adjective or adverb from the adjacent word, phrase or clause it modifies. For example:

I happily ran to the sunny park to play.

Here we have the adverb ‘happily’ modifying ‘ran’ with no comma. Similarly, we have the adjective ‘sunny’ modifying the noun ‘park’ with no comma. An incorrect version would be:

I happily, ran to the sunny, park to play. (incorrect)

Note how the adverb ‘happily’ now has an incorrect comma separating it and its verb ‘ran’, and the adjective ‘sunny’ now has an incorrect comma separating it and its noun ‘park’. This creates a very jarring and confusing sentence, which separates these words that are working so closely together.

2.3 To separate words, phrases or dependent clauses joined by co-ordinating conjunctions

We don’t generally use commas to separate words, phrases or dependent clauses that are joined by co-ordinating conjunctions (‘and’, ‘but’, ‘for’, ‘nor’, ‘or’ and ‘yet’).

For example:

Jane was happy and relieved.

In this example we have ‘happy’ being linked to ‘relieved’ by the coordinating conjunction ‘and’. In this situation, we don’t usually put a comma before ‘and’.

Another example is:

Jane was happy and joyously relieved.

In this example we have ‘happy’ being linked to the phrase ‘joyously relieved’ by the coordinating conjunction ‘and’. In this situation, we don’t usually put a comma before ‘and’.

A final example is:

He told her she was perfect and that he wanted to marry her.

Here we have the main clause ‘he told her she was perfect’ linked to the dependent clause ‘that he wanted to marry her’ by the coordinating conjunction ‘and’. In this situation we don’t usually use a comma before ‘and’.

As a quick reminder to earlier, commas are used between two independent clauses which are joined together by co-ordinating conjunctions. So when we have two independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction we do use commas, as in:

It is verb cold today, but I brought a coat.

and when we have an independent clause linked to a dependent clause via a coordinating conjunction we generally don’t, as in:

He told her she was perfect and that he wanted to marry her.

2.4 Comma splicing

A comma splice is when two independent/main clauses are linked with just a comma. Independent clauses have a subject-verb relationship and form a complete thought alone; therefore, a comma is not generally considered enough to link them. For example:

He is an hour late, I don’t think he is coming.

Here we have the main/independent clause ‘he is an hour late’ joined to the other main/independent clause ‘I don’t think he is coming’ by one comma. This is called a comma splice, and many people would consider it an error, especially in more formal writing.

Sometimes sentences will have many comma splices in a row, such as:

The door slammed shut suddenly, the light shut off at the exact same moment as the doors harsh bang, from somewhere in the corner of the room a screeching sound started to creep towards me, I turned around and grasped for the door handle.

Here we have three independent clauses linked by commas. So what are the ways to prevent comma splicing?

1) Change the comma to a semi-colon, dash or colon

We can just use a different bit of linking punctuation. For example:

He is an hour late; I don’t think he is coming.

He is an hour late – I don’t think he is coming.

He is an hour late: I don’t think he is coming.

2) Use a full stop and create separate sentences

We can also just create a new sentence with a full stop and a capital letter, as in:

He is an hour late. I don’t think he is coming.

3) Use a comma + a co-ordinating conjunction

We can keep the comma and add a co-ordinating conjunction after it, as in:

He is an hour late, so I don’t think he is coming.

4) Turn one clause into a subordinate/dependent clause

We can make one clause subordinate/dependent on the other using a subordinating conjunction, as in:

Because he is an hour late, I don’t think he is coming.

Here the subordinate clause ‘Because he is and hour late’ is subordinate to the main clause ‘I don’t think he is coming’. We achieved this with the subordinating conjunction ‘because’. We can also do this the opposite way around, as in:

I don’t think he is coming, because he is an hour late.

Again we have the main clause ‘I don’t think he is coming’ linked to the subordinate clause ‘because he is an hour late’.

3) Final word on commas

These rules are a good base for when, and when not, to use commas. However, the most important element in your choice of whether to use a comma should be the clarity and rhythm of the sentence. Rules on punctuation often change, but clear writing should last a very long time.

OK, now let’s move on to semi-colons.

NEXT: 5) Semi-colons

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