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Ask Questions about Comma Here

Pretty much everything you need to know about commas is contained in Zen Comma. However, if you have a question about a specific comma use, you can ask it on this page.

You can add your question in a comment below, and either I or another visitor will answer it. Commas have a major impact on both reader understanding and writer credibility, so I want to help you get them right.

Please be as specific as possible, such as by providing an entire sentence or an example.

Newest comments are at the bottom, not at the top.

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  1. #1 by Susan Hendricks Barry on September 9, 2011 - 9:59 pm

    I have a question about using commas with double interjections. Would this punctuation be correct:

    Well, now, I guess you’re right.

    OR…should it be:

    Well now, I guess you’re right.

    ???

    • #2 by Marilyn Windham on July 17, 2014 - 2:07 pm

      When I am writing a letter such as:

      Jane Doe, M.D.,
      Vice Chair
      Department of Surgery

      Do I put a comma after D.,
      Do I put a comma after Chair?

      • #3 by preciseedit on July 20, 2014 - 10:43 am

        Marilyn: When you are writing the titles in this list format, you do not need commas. However, if you were writing them in sentence format, you would.

  2. #4 by preciseedit on September 10, 2011 - 8:23 am

    The first one.
    “Well” and “now” are serving as two separate interjections. Because each interjection needs to be separated from the rest of the sentence with commas, you will need a comma for each interjection. With the two commas in place, you may think that this sounds a bit choppy, although some people do talk this way. If this sounds too choppy to you, you could revise the sentence to remove one of the interjections (I recommend removing “now”).

    That’s my take, based on the principles of comma use. I’d be interested in reading others’ responses, too.

  3. #5 by Martin Turnbull on November 19, 2011 - 3:48 pm

    What about this one?

    “If you pull the fire extinguisher the wrong way you will cover all those lovely fedoras with foam.”

    My instinct is to put a comma after the word WAY, but I’m not as sure as I’d like to be. Is it because the first half of the sentence is dependent on the second?

    • #6 by preciseedit on November 19, 2011 - 7:20 pm

      Martin: Yes, this needs a comma after “way,” but not because it’s dependent.

      The expression “if you pull the fire extinguisher the wrong way” is an introductory adverbial clause. These get followed by commas.

      Introductory: before the subject
      adverbial: describes the main verb, in this case the condition for the action to occur.

      The reason for the comma is simple. It lets the reader know when the description is over and the main sentence is about to begin. In most cases (with good writing), the subject will be immediately after that comma. This increases clarity.

      Here’s another example, not using “if.”
      “After the movie ended, we were scared to walk in the dark.”
      Here, the introductory adverbial phrase is “after the movie ended.” It describes when the action (being scared) occured. And it’s followed by a comma.

  4. #7 by Martin Turnbull on November 20, 2011 - 11:25 am

    Ah! That makes perfect sense! Thanks for such a clear explanation.

  5. #8 by Martin Turnbull on November 20, 2011 - 11:32 am

    May ask for another clarification? I’m even less sure of this one than I was of the last one.

    “His hopes of being hailed as Greta’s savior hadn’t amounted to anything, either.”

    This sentence comes directly after one about the hero’s hopes over something else being dashed. Does that comma belong after “anything”? I inserted it because it feels right but I have no notion why!

    • #9 by preciseedit on November 20, 2011 - 1:53 pm

      Again, you are correct.

      In this example, “either” is being used as a conjunctive adverb (like “therefore” and “however”). It connects the meaning of this sentence to the previous sentence, showing how they are related. Conjunctive adverbs are separated from the rest of the sentence with a comma.

      For example:
      I was sure I was right. However, she wasn’t so sure.
      Here, the conjunctive adverb is “however.” It, too, is separated from the rest of the sentence with a comma.

  6. #10 by Martin Turnbull on November 20, 2011 - 2:34 pm

    Ah-HA! So, it doesn’t matter if the conjunctive adverb comes at the start or the end of a sentence. Starting a sentence with a “However”, I wouldn’t have hesitated added in a comma after it, but appearing at the end, as that “either” did, threw me. Thanks so much!

    • #11 by preciseedit on November 20, 2011 - 6:39 pm

      Nope-doesn’t matter at all. Even if embedded, you will need the commas, as in “It, too, is separated….” (Here, “too” is acting as a conjunctive adverb.)

  7. #12 by Martin Turnbull on November 21, 2011 - 3:43 pm

    What about this one:

    It was an old iron skeleton key.

    I was taught that you put a comma in between adjectives when there are more than one. Should there be a comma between OLD and IRON? And/or between IRON and SKELETON? Or are commas only necessary between certain sorts of adjectives?

  8. #13 by preciseedit on November 21, 2011 - 3:58 pm

    This question is a bit more complicated. I’ll address the easy part first.

    The easy part:

    A skeleton key is a thing by itself, not an adjective plus a noun (technically, it is an adjective plus noun, but it describes a single type of thing). For this reason, you don’t need a comma between “iron” and “skeleton.” If we assume “skeleton key” is a thing, then “iron skeleton key” works like an adjective plus a noun, not an adjective plus an adjective plus a noun.

    The complicated part:

    You also don’t need a comma between “old” and “iron.” These are not coordinate adjectives.

    The simple test for coordinate adjectives: You might be able to put “and” between them without changing the meaning (the first test for coordinate adjectives), but you can’t reverse their order without changing what this sentence implies (the second test).

    The reason is “old” and “iron” are different types of adjectives, based on the Royal Order of Adjectives. “Old” is an age adjective; “iron” is a material adjective. If the adjectives are not the same type, they won’t be coordinate–which means you don’t need a comma.

    Using the Royal Order of Adjectives, we find this:
    old: age adjective
    iron: material adjective
    skeleton: type adjective
    Each of these is a different type, so they aren’t coordinate and don’t need commas.

    Let me add a caveat: Some style/grammar style guides will say that you do need commas between adjectives when you have more than two, regardless of the type of adjective. This would give you “old, iron, skeleton key,” but this simply doesn’t make sense here. You might get away with “old, iron skeleton key” because a skeleton key is a thing. Even so, based on how coordinate adjectives work, that comma isn’t necessary and will imply something that isn’t true.

    For more about coordinate adjectives and the Royal Order of Adjectives, take a look at https://zencomma.wordpress.com/2011/07/27/those-adjectives-need-a-comma/

  9. #14 by Martin Turnbull on November 21, 2011 - 5:55 pm

    Who knew that such a sentence needed such a detailed explanation? But thanks for taking the time. I’ve often wondered about the order of adjectives in English but never knew that order had a proper name, with capital letters and everything. Thanks again.

  10. #15 by preciseedit on November 21, 2011 - 7:43 pm

    I’m glad that you have found these answers useful.

    Writing is a key medium of clear and beneficial communication, and good writing depends on a strong grasp of the mechanics. I want to help people communicate well and accomplish their goals.

  11. #16 by Tara on March 1, 2012 - 9:46 pm

    Hi. I just bought your kindle book, but the table of contents is not interactive (meaning I can’t open the table of contents or anything through it). This makes the book’s organization a bit daunting. I can still return the kindle book in the next seven days, if you aren’t able to update it. Otherwise, if you can, kindle users will get the updated version upon update.

    Thank you.

    • #17 by preciseedit on March 1, 2012 - 10:27 pm

      Tara: Thank you for purchasing Zen Comma. I want you to be happy with it and find it useful. I wasn’t aware that the Table of Contents wasn’t interactive. We’ll look into it. Thanks for letting me know.

  12. #18 by Claire on July 30, 2012 - 4:44 am

    Most sites I have looked at say that words like ‘however’, ‘nevertheless’, and ‘therefore’ always need to be preceded and followed by commas when used in the middle of a sentence. I want to know if this still applies when these words are used as adverbs and separate the subject of the sentence from its verb or predicate. Take this sentence for example: “We regret that your flight arrangements did not allow you to spend more time in Istanbul, and we hope that you nevertheless had sufficient time to explore this exciting city”. Is this correct, or do I need commas?

  13. #19 by preciseedit on July 30, 2012 - 7:44 am

    Claire: In your sample sentence, you need commas before and after “nevertheless.” “Nevertheless” is a conjunctive adverb joining the idea in the second statement (had sufficient time…) to the idea in the first statement (we regret that your…).

    Another way to think about your example: Here, “nevertheless” is working similarly to an interpolated aside. (Example interpolated aside: “The elephant, as I have said before, is a smart creature.”)

    FYI: “however,” “nevertheless,” and “therefore” are adverbs: conjunctive adverbs.

    One case when “however” doesn’t need commas: When “however” is used to mean “in whatever way,” you don’t need the commas. (Example: Set up your desk however you wish.)

    For more on conjunctive adverbs, see the post “Commas with Therefore and Too.”

  14. #20 by Kathy on September 22, 2012 - 8:25 am

    Is it still correct to put a comma before also and too at the end of a sentence? I’m a proofreader and I’m finding the younger people are dropping the comma.

    • #21 by preciseedit on September 22, 2012 - 10:03 am

      Kathy, good question. The short answer is “Yes.”

      In brief, “too” serves as a conjunctive adverb, meaning it links the current information to prior information. Other common conjunctive adverbs include “therefore” and “however.” All conjunctive adverbs are separated from the rest of the sentence with commas.

      For more information, you might check out Commas with therefore and too.

  15. #22 by Michael on June 12, 2013 - 7:23 pm

    How about this sentence: A lack of business confidence translates into a lack of investment, and an inability for the economy to change gears.

  16. #23 by preciseedit on June 13, 2013 - 1:31 pm

    @Michael: No comma is needed. This sentence is equal to “A lack of business confidence translates into a lack of investment. A lack of business confidence translates into an inability for the economy to change gears.” Your sentence has 2 objects (phrases) linked to the preposition into: “a lack of investment” and “an inability for the economy to change gears.” This is the same as “I am going to the store and the movies.”

    • #24 by Michael on June 13, 2013 - 7:20 pm

      Thanks for replying. Would you say the comma is not only unneeded but also incorrect? And, if you don’t mind, what about this comma: I have got the auditing team’s check and the approval of Mr Smith, and would like to publish the summary tomorrow morning.

  17. #25 by Michael on June 17, 2013 - 6:03 am

    I might have replied in the wrong place. So I’ll try again, seeing as I’m very interested in your view on other paired, or compound, constructions. Thanks for replying. Would you say the comma is not only unneeded but also incorrect? And, if you don’t mind, what about this comma: I have got the auditing team’s check and the approval of Mr Smith, and would like to publish the summary tomorrow morning.

    • #26 by preciseedit on June 18, 2013 - 11:01 am

      Michael: Yes, the comma is incorrect. Commas separate items in sentences, and the object of a preposition should not be separated from the preposition. The faulty comma separates the second object from the preposition into.

      Regarding your second example. Again, yes, the comma is incorrect. This sentence has a compound predicate, meaning one subject with two predicates. The first predicate begins with “have got the auditing.” The second predicate begins with “would like to publish.” The comma before the second predicate separates it from the subject, breaking Zen Comma rule AJ, “Don’t use a comma to separate the predicate from the subject,” and rule AK, “Don’t use a comma to separate two parts of a compound predicate.”

  18. #27 by Michael on June 26, 2013 - 2:52 am

    I fully agree with you. But are we a minority? Forgive the long post, but I come across the second construction more often with a comma than without one. And I see the one in the first construction often, too. Just this week the New Yorker published: “What we do know is that, on this side of the Atlantic, efforts are being stepped up to demonize Snowden, and to delegitimize his claim to be a conscientious objector to the huge electronic-spying apparatus operated by the United States and the United Kingdom.” And what of this dramatic flourish: “As the writers we return to—those with offspring and those without—have always known, any amount of mothering is enough to break your heart every day, and also to fill it.” Also, would you share your view on the rather arbitrary advice below from a volunteer editor for CMOS? Q. Is it correct or incorrect to put a comma before the “and” in the following sentence: “The Department of Justice has taken on the role of coordinating agencies’ activities, and has undertaken several new initiatives related to dealing with criminals.” I think it’s correct because the second clause—although not an independent clause, strictly speaking—is so long (and the subject is implied). The comma seems to help the reader get through the sentence. Many thanks. A. The comma isn’t necessary, but if you want to indicate a pause, add it anyway. Please see CMOS 6.16: “The comma, aside from its technical uses in mathematical, bibliographical, and other contexts, indicates the smallest break in sentence structure. Especially in spoken contexts, it usually denotes a slight pause. Effective use of the comma involves good judgment, with ease of reading the end in view.”

  19. #28 by preciseedit on June 26, 2013 - 1:13 pm

    The New Yorker has pretty good writers, but in this case, the writer is wrong. The writer might be trying to use the commas to indicate or emphasize the second phrases, but they are still wrong. Yes, we can use incorrect sentence structure and punctuation to create a dramatic effect, but wrong is still wrong, even if it has a purpose.

    One more note about the second example (about writers): The correct punctuation should be “…[what we] have always known: any amount….” I switched the comma to a colon. The comma is wrong here, too!

    Regarding the CMOS advice: As correctly stated, the comma isn’t necessary. In fact, it’s wrong. But to advise “add it anyway” is, as you say, arbitrary. “Add commas where you want” is bad advice that disregards the function of commas. The subject of the sample sentence is not implied. It’s stated: “The Department of Justice.” The sentence has a compound predicate, and the writer is separating the second predicate from the subject.

    Overall, the “put a comma where you pause” advice is bad advice that leads to errors in many instances. As we learn to use commas correctly, we change from intuitive, arbitrary comma use to conscientious, accurate use, and our writing becomes more intelligible.

  20. #29 by Michael on July 3, 2013 - 2:48 am

    Great. Seems we are peas in a pod. I bought the Kindle version of Zen Comma a few months ago and enjoyed it, thank you. But regarding Rule E (Use commas as if implied words were present), would you mind pointing out some style guides or references supporting it. I thought there was a chance you might argue it applied to the cases I’ve given.

    • #30 by preciseedit on July 3, 2013 - 10:55 am

      Michael: Zen Comma rule E doesn’t come from any style guide that I know of. Rather, it is a logical extension of other rules that reflects what s sentence communicates and how the sentence parts interact. It addresses the meanings of sentences, not the specific words within the sentences.

      For example:
      “I went shopping for ice cream, and Bob, too.” The implied words here are “went shopping for ice cream,” as in “Bob went shopping for ice cream, too.” The first comma is separating the two independent clauses, which are obvious when we include the implied content. Without the comma, I went shopping for ice cream and Bob! Thus, the comma is required based on the implied content, not the written content of the sentence.

  21. #31 by Michael on July 16, 2013 - 9:24 pm

    Again, thanks for your generosity and for the dialogue. Not everyone agrees with us, though, and I ask your opinion of the following type of defense of the comma as a pause. Dated practice? Licentia poetica? http://www.alfrescopress.com/some-comma-dogma.html http://www.alfrescopress.com/whats-punctuation.html

    • #32 by preciseedit on July 19, 2013 - 11:00 am

      This one is tricky.

      The introductory clause has the subject “man” and the predicate “teaches something….” The writer of the article seems to think “and gives him a certificate of proficiency” is a second predicate for “man.” As explained previously, commas should not separate second predicates from the subject (though they might be there for other reasons), which would make the writer correct. So why do I think the writer is wrong?

      With the commas in the original, Shaw makes “and gives him a certificate of proficiency” a parenthetical expression, which means it needs to be separated by commas, one before and one after. The article writer noted that this might be the case. I think that it is. The idea expressed in the parenthetical expression is not the point that Shaw is trying to make; it is slightly off topic.

      Comma or no comma? Would I have criticized the sentence if that comma were left out? Probably not. Where commas are added or left out can affect the meaning of a sentence, and I think that’s what is happening here. If Shaw intended this to be a parenthetical expression, as indicated by his use of the comma, then the comma is correct. What this means is that the comma in question is not right or wrong but is, instead, an indication of how Shaw wanted the reader to interpret what he wrote.

    • #33 by preciseedit on July 19, 2013 - 11:13 am

      (comment #2)
      As a quick aside, in the “what’s punctuation” article, the writer breaks the rule about not using commas to separate second predicates: “he was well aware of standard usage, and not afraid to speak his mind on the topic.”

      And he forgot that dashes come in two flavors: em dash and en dash, each of which has specific uses. His explanation of dashes relates to the em dash.

      However, I commend the writer for thinking and writing about punctuation. These articles were very interesting and, overall, informative.

  22. #34 by Michael on July 22, 2013 - 8:13 pm

    Thanks, David. That passage seems key to the sentence’s point so not very parenthetical. Perhaps Shaw was using a dramatic pause borrowed from playwrights and poets that has passed out of favor in modern formal writing. I had hoped to learn your views on the many other sentences the writer cited or crafted to build his case.

    This is an unworkable plan, and has been from the start.
    I try to explain to him what I want him to do, and get nowhere.
    The second is headed “Comma Vomit”, and recommends against certain uses of commas.
    it’s perfectly acceptable in British usage, and probably more logical.
    Jane reads style guides, but sometimes ignores them. Jane writes steamy novels, and often flouts social convention.
    Each man sought his neighbor’s eye, but found in it no ray of hope, no encouragement.
    We are on our way to Gibraltar, and shall reach there five or six days out from the Azores.
    It was a pleasant business, and was very popular.
    Next, I went to H. L. Mencken, and glanced at The American Language.
    We can only record its moods, and chronicle their return.
    The Accountant had brought out already a box of dominoes, and was toying architecturally with the bones.
    “I woke up out of the ether with an utterly abandoned feeling, and asked the nurse right away if it was a boy or a girl.”
    I’m seeking treatment for the problem, and try not to let it interfere with my editing.
    What this discussion wants is a broader scope, and some historical context.
    When Ernest was just eighteen, he got a job with The Kansas City Star, and spent an entire six months there…honing his craft.
    Joyce was busy perfecting Stream of Consciousness at the time, and attempting to portray the flow of his character’s thoughts.
    Nevertheless, I suspect that most of this semicolon stigma can be attributed to Hemingway adulation, and the minimalist mystique.

    Almost all look better without the comma. But is the comma wrong? Could it be that a writer mindful of both options may use a comma to deliberately subordinate a passage in the manner of an afterthought. The last two examples seem to lend themselves to this. Trouble with it (rather than insiting on subject restatement, removal of the comma, or use of a dash) is it seems to sanction all such constructions.

    • #35 by preciseedit on August 1, 2013 - 8:50 am

      @Michael: I think the examples you provided illustrate 2 separate concepts.

      1. Correct vs. Incorrect Comma Use:
      The commas are incorrect inasmuch as they don’t follow standard rules for commas. For example, the comma in “It was a pleasant time, and was very popular” is incorrect. In most examples, the commas are separating the second predicate from the subject. In one case, the comma is separating two objects from their verbs (“What this discussion wants…”).

      2. Stylistic Use / Dramatic Use:
      Shaw is well known for using punctuation to help actors express their lines as he intended. He intentionally broke the rules to “force” a particular interpretation. These examples may demonstrate how a writer can use commas to create pauses and, thereby, emphasize particular phrases or ideas. By using the power of commas to separate ideas, the writer can help the reader focus on specific sentence elements. [One caution about using commas in this way: If you do it frequently, it quickly loses its functional ability to create impact and becomes annoying.]

      Overall, the questionable commas in the example sentences are wrong, but they might have a purpose, nonetheless. This incorrect use is similar to starting a sentence with a conjunction to create impact. It’s technically wrong (and is inappropriate in academic or technical writing), but it may be useful.

  23. #36 by Michael on July 31, 2013 - 2:42 am

    Then again, your “parenthetical” expression and my “subordinate” passage might mean pretty much the same, although the latter may permit a reduction in the importance of an element while allowing it to remain restrictive (as at least some of the passages above must be). In either case, the same problem would arise, that such usage would render any sentence with a comma before a coordinating conjunction legitimate and make the practice a matter of preference. Happy to be wrong on, or enlightened about, anything here or above.

  24. #37 by JOSEPH TESHUWAH on June 10, 2014 - 9:39 am

    I’m having a hard time figuring out when to use a comma before an ADVERB CLAUSE at the END of a sentence. Is there any “sure-fired” way to tell when to use a comma in this situation?

    ex. Ted didn’t like Alice because she was successful and talented.
    Ted didn’t like Alice, because she was successful and talented.

    • #38 by preciseedit on July 20, 2014 - 11:00 am

      Joseph, in most cases, you should not separate final adverbial clauses at the end of sentences. Similarly, more often than not, you will not need a comma before “because.” (See https://zencomma.wordpress.com/2011/05/13/commas-with-because/)

      On the other hand, you example poses an interesting question about sentence meaning, and the comma (or not) makes a major difference.

      “Ted didn’t link Alice because she was successful and talented.”
      Without the comma, this sentence might imply that although Alice is successful and talented, Ted liked her for some other reason. For example, this might mean “Ted didn’t like Alice because she was successful and talented but because she was pretty.” Or, he might not like her. This sentence is unclear.

      “Ted didn’t like Alice, because she was successful and talented.”
      With the comma, this sentence can only be interpreted as “The reason Ted didn’t like Alice is she was successful and talented.”

      So, in the first sentence, Ted might like Alice, but in the second sentence, he doesn’t. When using “because,” you have to think fairly carefully about what you are trying to communicate. As I mentioned, though, you normally don’t need a comma before “because.”

  25. #39 by JOSEPH TESHUWAH on June 10, 2014 - 9:40 am

    Can you please explain to me if I’m supposed to use a comma before a work like “today” or “yesterday” at the end of a sentence? Thanks!

  26. #41 by Tan on August 29, 2014 - 10:13 pm

    Could you tell me whether a comma is needed before “and financial institutions”? Based on the serial comma rule, a comma is not needed because I am talking about 2 items only: “state and federal agencies” and “financial institutions”. But I feel that without the comma in this instance, the sentence looks ambiguous.

    My sentence is as follows: We have to discuss with state and federal agencies and financial institutions.

    • #42 by preciseedit on September 3, 2014 - 9:29 am

      Tan. No, you don’t need a comma there.

      On the other hand, to clarify the sentence further, you can make “discuss” rather than “with” the linking word, as follows: “We have to discuss with state and federal agencies and with financial institutions.”

      You can also reorder the items like this: “We have to discuss with financial institutions and state and federal agencies.” I generally recommend putting the more complicated series items at the end, which is what I did in this version.

      • #43 by Tan on September 3, 2014 - 7:23 pm

        Thanks for your reply, Mr Bowman. I have another favour to ask of you. I have a copy of Zen Comma, but Rule E (Use commas as if implied words were present) still bugs me. Could you elaborate a bit more and give a zillion examples to “drill” it into my dumb head? Thanks, Mr Bowman.

      • #44 by Tan on September 3, 2014 - 9:28 pm

        Hi Mr Bowman, is the placement of the comma correct for this sentence: Monday’s reception will feature two types of sandwiches: pineapple and cream cheese, and marinated bell peppers and goat cheese.

    • #45 by preciseedit on September 8, 2014 - 9:13 am

      REGARDING RULE E
      Implied words are tricky. When you have a sentence with implied words, you need to punctuate the sentence as if all the words were present.

      Here is a rather silly example that I hope will clarify: “The president called me an exciting moment.” As written, according to the president, I am an exciting moment. Instead, this statement is intended to express the idea that I was excited when the president called me. This sentence has implied words: “which was.” When we add the implied words, the meaning and the correct punctuation become clear, as follows. “The president called me, which was an exciting moment.” If we leave out the implied words, the punctuation needs to remain the same as if they were still present: “The president called me, an exciting moment.”

      Punctuating sentences Implied words can be tricky because we often don’t realize that we are leaving them out.

      Here’s another example: “One dog breed is smart and another dumb.” This sentence needs a comma. With the implied words included, the sentence is “One dog breed is smart, and another dog breed is dumb.” When the implied words are in the sentence, we see that the sentence contains 2 independent clauses joined by a conjunction, which means it needs a comma between “smart” and “another.” If we leave out those implied words, the comma needs to remain, as follows: “One dog breed is smart, and another dumb.”

      REGARDING YOUR EXAMPLE SENTENCE
      Your example: “Monday’s reception will feature two types of sandwiches: pineapple and cream cheese, and marinated bell peppers and goat cheese.”

      No comma is required because you have only two types of items. A similar, but less complicated, sentence is “We have two cars: a coupe and a station wagon.” The sentence structure is identical to your sample, and it requires no comma.

      However, your sentence is tricky because each sandwich type contains two descriptive words. Without the comma, the reader may easily become confused. You could leave the comma in place, which will break the comma rules but improve understanding. On the other hand, you could revise the sentence.

      For example, you could number the items, as follows: “Monday’s reception will feature two types of sandwiches: (1) pineapple and cream cheese and (2) marinated bell peppers and goat cheese.”

      You could also restructure the sentence like this: “Monday’s reception will feature pineapple and cream cheese sandwiches and marinated bell peppers and goat cheese sandwiches.”

      Finally, you could use a short bulleted list.
      “Monday’s reception will feature two types of sandwiches:
      –pineapple and cream cheese and
      –marinated bell peppers and goat cheese.”

      My revisions correctly use commas (by leaving them out) and help clarify what the sandwiches contain. (I prefer the third revision with the bulleted list.) Even so, you may wish to break the rules here and add the comma as you did in your example. The comma is wrong, but, in this case, it is helpful.

      • #46 by Tan on September 8, 2014 - 10:16 pm

        Thank you, Mr Bowman. Your explanations are very clear! I will post again when I chanced upon `weird’ comma usage.

  27. #47 by Kassandra Konecny on September 2, 2014 - 10:39 am

    So, I work as a professional editor, and my fellow editors and I have been having a dispute about commas and coordinating conjunctions. How would this sentence look with commas:

    “At the grocery store, he bought bread; at the hardware store, he bought a hammer; and, at the bakery, he bought a cake.”

    I am of the mind that there needs to be a comma after the “and” and after “bakery”. They don’t think there should be a comma after “and”. What is correct?

    Here is a simpler example:

    “Katie went to the store, and, because she bought her toddler, the trip took a long time.”

    How should that look?

    • #48 by preciseedit on September 3, 2014 - 9:41 am

      Kassandra: First, you don’t need a comma after “and.” Also, because you have used semicolons, you don’t need the “and.” However, if you opt to leave in “and,” which indicates a series, you can drop the comma after “and,” as follows.
      “At the grocery store, he bought bread; at the hardware store, he bought a hammer; and at the bakery, he bought a cake.”

      The commas after “bread,” “hammer,” and “bakery” are correct. The commas in those places separate the introductory descriptive phrases from the main sentence and indicate when the main sentence begins.

      Your second example is somewhat different. By putting commas before and after “because she brought her toddler,” you make this dependent clause a parenthetical expression.

      Given the importance of “because she brought her toddler” to the meaning of the sentence, I don’t think this clause should be parenthetical. As such, leave off the comma before “because,” as follows.
      “Katie went to the store, and because she bought her toddler, the trip took a long time.”

      I hope this helps.

  28. #49 by Tan on September 16, 2014 - 8:04 pm

    Hi Mr Bowman, after going through all the posts here once more, I found that the posting my Michael on June 26, 2013, did raise a “blur” line between `implied words’ and `compound predicates’. For example, the sentence “The Department of Justice has taken on the role of coordinating agencies’ activities, and has undertaken several new initiatives related to dealing with criminals.” looks like it could be taken as two independent clauses; therefore, it needs a comma after `activities’. But as you have explained, this sentence has compound predicates. My question: Is there a surefire way to tell when a sentence has compound predicates and not a sentence in need of `implied’ word/s? Thanks.

    • #50 by preciseedit on October 4, 2014 - 7:39 pm

      Subjects are never implied for the second predicate in a compound predicate. Instead, the first subject serves as the subject for both predicates.

      Using your example: “The Department of Justice has taken on the role of coordinating agencies’ activities, and has undertaken several new initiatives related to dealing with criminals.” Here, you have two predicates for the subject “The Department of Justice.” The subject is not implied for the second predicate; it’s provided already. As such, the comma needs to be removed.

      If you haven’t seen it yet, check out the graphic on THIS POST that shows how commas work with compound predicates and independent clauses.

  29. #51 by Wayne on October 14, 2014 - 6:48 am

    I’ve seen many postings on commas and dates, but I haven’t seen one covering the day of week, month and date in a sentence. Is this correct?: Beginning Monday, Oct. 20, qualified Rhode Island voters will have the opportunity to vote early in the November 4 General Election.

    • #52 by preciseedit on October 14, 2014 - 12:56 pm

      Wayne: Regarding dates, Zen Comma rule AC states the following.

      “Put commas around the year when the month and day are included.
      When you write a date and include the month, day, and year, the year needs to be separated with commas, both before and after.”

      However, this is a bit different from your sample. In general, when the date has two words in a row (e.g., Monday October), the words need to be separated by a comma. This is not only an issue of dates but also an issue of appositives. As such, we need to consider Zen Comma rule J: Separate non-restrictive appositives with commas.

      Here, the week day (e.g., Monday) means the same thing as the month date (e.g., October 20), making the month date an appositive. Like all non-restrictive appositives, it is separated from the rest of the sentence by commas.

      The correct punctuation for your example is “Beginning Monday, Oct. 20, qualified Rhode Island voters will have the opportunity to vote early in the November 4 General Election.”

      You got it right.

  30. #53 by Bilawal on November 2, 2014 - 12:04 am

    Comma insertion correct? “GPUs simply run the same thread of code on large amounts of data, and are able to hide memory latency by managing the execution of more threads than available processor cores.”

    • #54 by preciseedit on November 2, 2014 - 2:21 pm

      Bilawal: You do not need the comma before “and” in this example. The sentence has one subject and two predicates. The subject is “GPUs.” The first predicate begins with “simply run,” and the second predicate begins with “are able.” Notice that “GPUs” is the subject for both predicates, which means you have a compound predicate.

      As stated in Zen Comma Rule AK: Don’t use a comma to separate two parts of a compound predicate.

      • #55 by Bilawal on November 9, 2014 - 12:04 am

        Thank you so much for taking the time to reply..what about the comma before “because” in this sentence “The red and near-infrared range of the spectrum contains the most adequate wavelengths for the optical imaging of biological media, because intervening tissues (e.g., skin, bone) are relatively transparent to light at these wavelengths.”

      • #56 by preciseedit on November 9, 2014 - 5:02 pm

        Bilawal-In most cases, you do not need a comma before “because.” Generally, “because” begins a dependent clause that cannot be separated from the main sentence. Unlike such conjunctions as “and,” “or,” and “but,” the word “because” does not introduce an independent clause. In your example, the comma before “because” can (and should) be removed.

    • #57 by preciseedit on November 2, 2014 - 2:24 pm

      For more information about using a comma with compound predicates, see this post: https://zencomma.wordpress.com/2014/02/22/commas-before-and/.

  31. #58 by Shelby on November 7, 2014 - 10:11 am

    if I say “not one but five planes have crashed” where would I need commas regarding “not only but also”?

    • #59 by preciseedit on November 9, 2014 - 4:59 pm

      Shelby: The “not only…but also” issue isn’t related to your example. The “not only…but also” expression is a correlative pair, similar to “either…or.” Correlative pairs should not be separated with a comma (Zen Comma Rule AI). However, your example doesn’t use this type of expression. No comma is needed.

  32. #60 by Billy on November 14, 2014 - 11:56 am

    Regarding “not only…but also.” Is the sentence ok? For science tells us not only about what is, but also about what must be if certain conditions are to be brought to realization.

  33. #61 by Mary Ann on November 18, 2014 - 5:34 pm

    I would like some help with this sentence:
    So excited was he that he called his friend at once.
    Is a comma needed before that? How is “that” functioning in the sentence?

    Many thanks for your help.

  34. #62 by Kevin on December 2, 2014 - 5:22 pm

    Is the following sentence grammatically correct?

    “What is the status of the University Avenue project, has your company made a decision to purchase the land yet?”

    • #63 by preciseedit on December 2, 2014 - 6:18 pm

      Kevin: The sentence is not correct.

      Your sentences contains a comma splice, which means you have joined two independent clauses by a comma. You need to choose one of the following options:
      1. add a conjunction following the comma: “What is the status of the University Avenue project, and has your company made a decision to purchase the land yet?”
      2. replace the comma with a semicolon: “What is the status of the University Avenue project; has your company made a decision to purchase the land yet?”
      3. replace the comma with a colon: “What is the status of the University Avenue project: has your company made a decision to purchase the land yet?”
      4. create two sentences: “What is the status of the University Avenue project? Has your company made a decision to purchase the land yet?”

      Option 3 (colon) is less common in U.S. English than option 2 (semicolon), but it is equally correct. I see options 1 (comma + conjunction) and 4 (2 separate sentences) most often.

      Zen Comma, chapter 2, discusses joining sentences with commas, particularly using comma + conjunction.

  35. #64 by Judy on December 11, 2014 - 9:56 am

    Do I need the comma in this sentence?
    A special thank you goes out to, Skip for his generous support.

    • #65 by preciseedit on December 20, 2014 - 4:39 pm

      Judy-No, you do not need a comma in that sentence. You only set off names when they are the names of the person to whom you are writing. For example, if you are writing to Bob, you might write, “I’m telling you, Bob, that the sky is pink!”

      In your example, “Skip” is the object of the preposition “to.” The object of the preposition and the prepositions should not be separated with a comma.

  36. #66 by Mary Ann on December 19, 2014 - 7:24 pm

    Does the word “then” need to be set off by commas in the following sentence?
    Is there, then, any reason to worry?

    • #67 by preciseedit on December 20, 2014 - 4:40 pm

      Mary Ann: Yes. In your example, “then” is serving as a parenthetical expression and must be separated from the rest of the sentence with commas.

  37. #68 by CS Tan on December 21, 2014 - 4:55 pm

    May I ask a question? Is the comma correct for this sentence? A seminary had offered him a scholarship, but he visited the campus and found it lifeless. I feel that the comma, in this instance, is not right because the second part of the sentence `he visited the campus and found it lifeless’ needed the first part of the sentence to have its intended meaning.

  38. #69 by Mary Ann on January 6, 2015 - 11:16 am

    Is a comma needed after etc. in the following sentence? Using a comma here would seem to separate the subject from the predicate, but I see it used this way, especially in older writings.

    Stage fright, fear, etc., are some of the things that must be faced.

    Thank you for your website and for so generously giving your help. It is much appreciated.

  39. #70 by Bilawal on January 24, 2015 - 11:24 am

    Do we need a comma after “West Africa” in this sentence?
    Agro-ecological alternatives to the GR4A approach may be seen in a variety of contexts, such as in West Africa where traditional subsistence farmers using plant associations and organic inputs have often fared better than those farmers heavily engaged in cash cropping.

    • #71 by Kent William on September 18, 2015 - 6:41 pm

      No, you don’t need a comma. The information is critical to the sentence and not a parenthetical phrase; therefore, it would not be set off by adding another comma.

  40. #72 by Jeff on February 2, 2015 - 2:39 pm

    Fuzzy on the rule, but am I correct in thinking that because of subject/verb, there shouldn’t be a comma after TV?: Valley View Services of La Mirada, La Mirada AARP and KXXL-TV, invite you to a special preview screening of a forthcoming PBS documentary from Dan Crocker.

  41. #73 by PJ on May 20, 2015 - 8:28 am

    In Stephen King’s Needful Things, he (or his editor) repeatedly uses the descriptor: large, crooked teeth. Am I right in saying that that comma is an error?!

  42. #74 by Linda on September 26, 2015 - 7:29 pm

    In the Royal Order of Adjectives into what category do adjectives that show design or pattern fall? I am referring to words such as striped, checkered, spotted, and zigzag. A source I have been using identifies design/pattern as its own category and it follows color. For example, a black and white striped pencil is in the cup.

  43. #75 by Lilian on October 18, 2015 - 7:54 pm

    Hi Mr Bowman, I am unsure about putting commas in these 2 sentences. Hope you can help. Here goes: The President has urged the people not to make VXY Inc. into a political circus and let the company do its job.

    “Allow the issue to be resolved. If there are wrongdoings (in VXY), let the Accounts Committee find out, and stern action will be taken,” he assured.

    Q1. Is there a need for a comma after the word “circus”?
    Q2. Is there a need for a comma after the words “find out”?

    Thank you, Sir

  44. #76 by Mary Ann on October 27, 2015 - 8:05 pm

    In the following sentence, does “as such” need to be set off with commas?

    The physicist insisted that matter, as such, does not exist.

  45. #77 by Lilian on October 29, 2015 - 8:44 pm

    Hi Mr Bowman, is there a need for a comma after the word `serious’ in this sentence – James argued that the implications of unrest within the organisation were very serious and if not dealt with, could very likely cost the party and its allies public support.

    • #78 by preciseedit on September 7, 2017 - 2:12 pm

      LIlian: I’ve taken a hiatus while assisting with several education initiatives. I left the site up in the meantime as a resource. I’m back!

  46. #79 by Lilian on March 30, 2016 - 12:17 am

    Has Mr Bowman given up on this site? There’s has been no update or response since the last posting by Mary Ann on October 27 last year. I really like Zen Comma a lot.

  47. #80 by Charles M Lines on May 20, 2016 - 10:27 am

    ‘Life needs to have a purpose: a specific and clear end result.’ or ‘Life needs to have a purpose, a specific and clear end result.’ The first is the best, I think. But could you use the second? Or is it bad style?

  48. #81 by edvard on May 28, 2016 - 5:50 am

    Hi! What is the correct way to write the sentence; It`s been a pleasure California, stay gold!

    • #82 by preciseedit on September 7, 2017 - 2:10 pm

      Assuming that I understand the message you are trying communicate, this is the correct way: “It’s been a pleasure, California. Stay gold!”
      Don’t forget that comma before “California.” You are making a direct address to California, similar to mentioning the name of the person to whom you are writing. Example: “I like your car, David.”

  49. #83 by Tan on September 26, 2016 - 8:30 pm

    Hi Mr Bowman, if I want to stress that Simon drank the spiked drink, and not that he fainted, would this sentence be correct: Simon drank the spiked drink, and fainted.

    • #84 by preciseedit on September 7, 2017 - 2:08 pm

      No. You cannot separate the second predicate (“and fainted”) from the subject (“Simon”). If you want to emphasize the first action (“drank the spiked drink”), place it at the end of the sentence. Try this: “Simon fainted after he drank the spiked drink.”

  50. #85 by David Grove on October 21, 2016 - 2:56 pm

    Hello. I’m an author and journalist. Can you tell me if commas are needed in the following sentences? I don’t believe they are.

    1. I saw her mother but not her father.

    2. The ship is the size of a small city and surrounded by glittering vistas.

    Thank you.

    David Grove.

    • #86 by preciseedit on September 7, 2017 - 2:06 pm

      #1: correct
      #2 correct (regarding commas) but you have a verb shift problem. “Is” doesn’t match “surrounded.” In fact, you started with the active voice and concluded with the passive voice. You might try “Surrounded by glittering vistas, the ship is the size of a small city.”

  51. #87 by Christine on September 7, 2017 - 6:29 am

    When two or more adjectives come before a noun, I was taught if one of the adjectives is a color or reference to age (young, old) not to use a comma. What are your thoughts?
    A shiny red bike . . .
    The grumpy old man . . .

    • #88 by preciseedit on September 7, 2017 - 2:04 pm

      Christine: That is generally correct. The principle to keep in mind is whether or not the first adjective defines the second adjective.

      Adjective, adjective noun = the first and second adjectives independently modify the noun
      Adjective adjective noun = the second adjective modifies the noun, and the first adjective modifies the adjective-noun combination.

      For example…
      1. “The large green bus” implies that there is something called a “green bus” that is large, which differentiates it from the “small green bus.” (Maybe there are two buses in the parking lot, and you need to indicate which bus.) Here, there is a class/category of things that are green buses. This makes “green bus” one thing and “large” the adjective to describe that thing. In this case, you don’t need the comma.

      2. “The large, green bus” implies that you are referring to a bus that is large and green. The adjectives “large” and “green” equally describe “bus.” Because the two adjectives work independently, they need to be separated by a comma.

  52. #89 by Christine on September 8, 2017 - 6:22 am

    Thank you so much :)

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