Comma, Comma, Comma Chameleon


by Kirsten Macdissi

Commas are probably both the most used and the most misunderstood punctuation mark in the English language. It’s a versatile punctuation mark, with several different legitimate functions, which may contribute to usage confusion at times. Commas indicate a pause in the flow of a sentence, or a separation between items in a series, or mark the beginning of a quote. (See what we did just now?) They are also used after salutations, as in Dear John, or to separate cities from states, as in Omaha, Nebraska. Separating the month and day from the year in a date also requires a comma in American usage: October 27, 2022. These last conventional uses, however, are not the ones that commonly confuse writers.

Most often, it is the pause function of a comma that um, gives us pause. Here are the rules to guide the correct usage of commas:


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