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Today we head over to The Write Practice for a refresher course on commas by Ruthanne Reid. Comma placement is very important and can change the meaning of a sentence is read. The most famous example:
A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and proceeds to fire it at the other patrons.
“Why?” asks the confused, surviving waiter amidst the carnage, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.
“Well, I’m a panda,” he says. “Look it up.”
The waiter turns to the relevant entry in the manual and, sure enough, finds an explanation. “Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”
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All About Commas
by Ruthanne Reid
Today, I have just a few comma tips for you. This is nowhere near an exhaustive guide, but if you learn these rules, you’ll give a better impression with your written word everywhere you go.
The Purpose of Commas
The biggest confusion regarding commas stems from a terrible urban legend. That urban legend is this: “If you want to know where a comma goes, just put it wherever you want a pause in your writing.” (And then say “comma” three times in front of a mirror, etc.)
This is not true.
Commas serve a specific purpose; they exist to divide content by clause, to delineate list items from one another, and to indicate sentence continuation before and after quotation marks.
Generally speaking, commas only show up for clarity’s sake—and I’ll be explaining how they clarify in each of the following examples.
When to Use Commas
Use Commas Between More Than Two Items
In a list, two items never require a comma. Three or more, however, do. For example:
- I can go to the store for milk and eggs. (No comma required.)
- I can go to the store for milk, eggs, and bread. (Comma required.)
This applies to subjects, too. Two subjects do not require a comma; three or more do.
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