Over the years, I’ve seen manuscripts and college assignments riddled with commas and I’ve seen them without even the basic commas. When I asked one student what rules he used for inserting commas in his writing, he said, “I put a comma everywhere I pause to take a breath when reading.”
What? Is that in an English textbook somewhere?
It is just a bad to have too many commas as it is to have too few, so check your own writing against these basic comma rules.
- Use a comma after an introductory clause. (Example: If you are looking for a job, try the Internet.)
- Use a comma before the conjunction that joins two independent clauses (independent clauses could stand alone as two sentences without the conjunction joining them). (Example: Job candidates should match their skills to the position, and they should know something about the target company.)
- Use a comma to sent off a nonessential clause. (Example: Y. E. Yang, who was ranked 110th, beat Tiger Woods by three strokes in the PGA championship yesterday.)
- Use commas to separate units in dates and geographical expressions. (Example: On Sunday, August 16, 2009, the PGA saw a huge upset in Minneapolis, Minnesota, when Yang defeated Woods.)
- Use commas to separate items in a series. (Example: To learn more about a specific career field, do an informational interview, research on the Internet, do volunteer work, or get into a training program.)
If you can apply these few rules to your comma use, you’ll be way ahead of the competition when you submit your work to an agent or publisher.