Learning comma rules if of the utmost importance.
Not only do comma rules help to smoothen the flow of a piece of writing you are working on, but they increase your writing skills as you begin to realize the true importance of grammar.
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Grammar is not only important in academic writing. Obviously, teachers and professors will ask for proper mechanics and usage within papers you turn in during the course of a class. Part of the key to being a solid and well-rounded writer, however, is to know how to use grammar and other proper usages of words, phrases, commas, etc. in writing other than just the branded "academic" style.
One great way to begin learning and using grammar is to read through some basic comma rules. You may think that you know exactly when to use a comma, and you may just be right on all of the time. For those of you, though, that are only right most of the time, some of the time, or possibly even none of the time, comma rules are your ticket to differentiating yourself from all those people who think they know how to use grammar correctly, but are missing the importance of grammar as it relates to rules for comma usage, prepositional phrases, parallelism, and all the rest of what makes up the grammar circuit.
Now, for the comma rules (these are in no particular order, so do not come to the conclusion that one is more important than another -- they are all equally important to know and understand):
First, use a comma before conjunctions when they connect two independent clauses.
If two sentences can stand on their own (hence, they are independent from one another), and a conjunction comes between them, then a comma is necessary.
Example A: She wanted to go the grocery store, but he wanted to go to the park.
Example B: Mark ate an apple, for Patricia had already eaten all of the pears.
A comma is necessary in Example A, because if you remove the word "but," both parts of the sentence that reside on either side of "but" are independent. They can stand alone. They both have a subject and a verb, and therefore are not fragments, but rather complete sentences. In Example B, if you remove the word "for," both sides of the sentence are still complete and can stand alone as well.
Conjunctions that are the most common to use in this first of many comma rules can be remembered by using the acronym FANBOYS. This stands for for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so. These are seven of the most common conjunctions you will see, but others do exist (because, if, when, since, etc.).
The second of the comma rules is to separate three or more items in a series. This, in my opinion, is the easiest and most widely known of the comma rules. You may not know that you know the comma rules, but, for the most part, you probably know to place commas between items in a series.
Example A: I am going to eat a peanut butter, jelly, and banana sandwich.
Example B: The American flag contains the colors red, white, and blue.
In either of the above cases, if I had taken away one of the items in the series, then the word "and" would have sufficed in place of the comma. After all, the comma takes the place of the word "and."
The third of the comma rules recognizes the importance of commas after introductory expressions (words, phrases, or dependent clauses) or commas that come before comments or questions that are tagged on to the ends of sentences.
Example A (word): Yes, I would love to go on a date with you.
If you take away the word "Yes," the sentence will still be complete with a subject and a verb, and the main idea of the sentence (the acceptance of the date) will still be intact.
Example B (phrase): If you do not talk to her soon, then I am going to do it myself.
Remember that a phrase will not have a subject or verb, and a clause will have a subject and verb. The sentence in Example B has both a dependent and an independent part to it. The first part of the sentence, which begins with the conjunction "if," is dependent. It cannot stand on its own. The remainder of the sentence that follows it can in fact stand on its own, and that independent part does contain a subject and a verb. You can also choose to flip the sentence around and take away the need for any commas. If you were to do this, the sentence would read, "I am going to do it myself if you do not talk to her soon." In this case, only one word -- "then" -- has been omitted from the original sentence.
Example C (clause): Once I bake the cake, I will have you come and taste it.
"Once I have baked the cake" is a dependent clause. It contains a subject and a verb ("I bake"). That part of the sentence cannot stand on its own, but the remaining part can ("I will have you come and taste it").
Rules for commas continue on with a fourth, fifth, and sixth rule to further instill the importance of grammar. The fourth comma rule is as follows: When a person is being spoken to in a sentence, put commas around the person's name.
Example A: You don't understand, Bob, what I am going through today.
Example B: I need to talk to you, Emma, about Saturday's plans.
Now, if you are talking about a person, and not right to them, commas are not necessarily required. For example, in the sentence, "I need Carly to go to the store and pick up some milk," I am not speaking directly to Carly, but rather, I am telling someone else what Carly needs to do. Therefore, her name does not have to be between commas.
As we begin to wind down these comma rules, we come to the fifth one, which is also pretty easy once you realize what to watch for in your writing. Anytime words such as "however" or "therefore" interrupt a sentence, put commas around those words.
Example A: I am going to the party tonight. It is important, however, that you stay here and watch the baby.
Example B: Several people said they could not get a hold of you. We hope, therefore, that you are okay.
Since you can take away the words "however" and "therefore" in the aforementioned sentences and still have the rest of the sentences remain logical and coherent, these words are not necessary. Each one needs a comma on either side of it.
Our rules for comma usage come to a close with the sixth rule: Put commas around non-essential, unnecessary information. You have actually done this a bit as you have progressed through each of the comma rules. The fifth rule, just above, basically has its roots in this sixth rule. Those words (however and therefore) were not essential or necessary to the context of the sentences, and could be potentially taken away without repercussions to the remainders of the sentences.
Example A: People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.
Example B: Everyone who speaks out of turn will lose participation points.
In Examples A and B, no commas are necessary. Some people might like to put commas around "who live in glass houses" in Example A, or "who speaks out of turn" in Example B. The fact of the matter is, though, that the information you would be choosing to put between commas is essential to the context of the sentence. Otherwise, any old people should not throw stones. We need to be sure we understand it is those specific people who live in glass houses that should not do so. In Example B, not everyone will lose participation points. It is only those specific people who speak out of turn who will lose points. If putting certain words, phrases, clauses, etc. between commas changes the meaning of the sentence, do not put commas.
Now, look at these examples where commas are necessary because information is non-essential:
Example A: Alvin and the chipmunks, her favorite movie characters, recently put out a sequel to their first movie.
Example B: The Beatles, a classic rock band, consisted of Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, John Lennon, and George Harrison.
In either case, the information that is between the commas is good information to have, but it is not absolutely essential to the overall context of the sentences. It is not important to know that Alvin and the Chipmunks are her favorite movie characters. One way or the other, they recently put out a sequel to their first movie. In Example B, it is nice to know that the Beatles are a classic rock band, but it is not important to the context of the sentence, which is mainly trying to name the four members of the Beatles.
Now that you have more of an idea about the six comma rules, read through any writing you have done recently, or even not so recently, and see if you made any simple errors that can be easily corrected. By learning more about grammar and comma rules, you will hone your writing technique. This will make for even better writing in the future as you contemplate the importance of grammar.
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