Comma Overuse

Learning Objectives

  • Recognize the standard uses of commas

Commas with Introductory Words or Phrases

What’s an introductory phrase?

Interestingly, many introductory phrases can be just a word. However, introductory phrases should be followed by a comma.

Because an introductory phrase can be removed from the sentence, the comma makes clear it is an extra part of the sentence.

Common words (these are called coordinating conjunctions) used in introductory phrases:

  • because, although, after, while, nevertheless, therefore, and since.

Tip: You can identify an introductory phrase when it can be moved to the end of the sentence.

  • Because I ate food, I was not hungry.
  • I was not hungry because I ate food.

Note: When the introductory phrase comes at the end of the sentence it is no longer introductory and a comma is not used.

  • between the subject and verb of a sentence
    • Example: My mother, is a wonderful cook.
    • Example: The judge, jury, and audience, were all surprised by this admission.
  • in between compound subjects or compound verbs
    • Example: My brother, and my sister both hate broccoli with a passion.
    • Example: Jesse tripped, and fell into a rosebush.
  • before any preposition
    • Example: I signaled quietly to Harriet that she had spinach, in her teeth.
    • Example: All Juan wanted to do was to have some time outside walking, through the forest.
  • before or after any conjunction
    • Example: I challenged Mr. Burton to an arm-wrestling match and, he beat me twice.
    • Example: Joey tossed the ball, and watched his dog run after it.
      • Remember that you  DO need a comma before a conjunction that is separating two independent clauses.
  • before a list
    • Example: My favorite things to eat for breakfast are, bacon, eggs, and cereal.

Try It

Commas with Adjectives

This is a easy and simple rule! Or, this is an easy, simple rule. When you have two adjectives modifying a noun (easy and simple are the adjectives) describing the noun (rule), you use a comma between the two. You can double check this by substituting the word “and.” If “and” works, the comma is correct.

  • It was a dark and stormy night.
  • It was a dark, stormy night.

Should we use a comma here?

  • Tom got Huck to paint the white picket fence.
  • Tom got Huck to paint the white and picket fence. That’s sounds weird. So we don’t use a comma.

One way to think about this rule is that the two adjectives need to be equal; the other way is just to use the “and” test.

Try It

Complete the practice exercises in the interactive below to ensure you know when to use, and when not to use, a comma.