In years gone by I was extremely good with punctuation. I always received top marks for comprehension and extra marks for presentation. However, with the introduction of the internet, I’ve found that I’ve become confused with some punctuation usage. I suppose reading a lot of American websites has done that.
Lately, I’ve been wanting to return to the basics (as you’ve no doubt realised by my latest blog entries), and relearn what I had always known. I discovered that in most areas I had stayed true to what is expected in Australia, but I seem to have digressed in two areas. One of those areas was the comma.
Please note that the following usage is for Australians only (it definitely does NOT apply in America, but may apply in England). You should check what your regional standard is.
The comma makes the meaning clearer by separating parts of a sentence. It sugges a short puase and is used in the following places:
- to separate items in a list:
We had sandwices, fruit, a cake and milk for lunch.
(There is no need for a comma before “and” in the above sentence.)
- to separate lists of adjectives or adverts:
She is a bright, friendly, happy girl.
The dog moved slowly, carefully, quietly and warily away from the cat.
(That second sentence is a shocker; never, ever do that in your manuscript.)
- to separate principal cluases in a sentence:
They were tired, but they hurried anyway.
- to separate words, phrases and clauses at the beginnings of sentences:
However, I wish to disagree.
In the afternoon, the opposing team arrived.
If you try hard, you will succeed.
- to separate words and groups of words that add extra information:
My dog, Honey, swam in the creek.
The captain, our best player, scored the goal.
Sarah, who had a sore throat, stayed at home.
- to separate words that are said in direct speech.
“I know,” said Mary.
“Would you mind,” I asked, “if I sat next to you?”
Sometimes the use of the comma is optional; you can decide whether or not it is needed, for instance, either example is acceptable here:
I hurried but I missed the train.
I hurried, but I missed the train.
Always use a comma if it makes the meaning clearer.