Comma Overuse

Learning Objectives

  • Recognize the standard uses of commas
  • Demonstrate the standard uses of commas

A sure way to irritate educated readers of your work is to give them an overabundance of commas. It is easy but dangerous to take the attitude that Sally once did in a Peanuts comic strip, asking Charlie Brown to correct her essay by showing her “where to sprinkle in the little curvy marks.”

Perhaps the best way to troubleshoot your particular comma problems, especially if they are serious, is to identify and understand the patterns of your errors. We tend to make the same mistakes over and over again; in fact, many writers develop the unfortunate habit of automatically putting commas into slots such as these:

  • between the subject and verb of a sentence
  • after any number
  • before any preposition
  • before or after any conjunction


Just as it is common for someone to have to look up the same tricky word dozens of times before committing its proper spelling to memory, you may need to reference comma rules multiple times before they feel natural to use. As you improve your comma usage, you will learn to recognize and re-evaluate your sentence patterns, and the rewards are numerous. There is no foolproof or easy way to understand all standard uses of commas, but a great place to start is reminding yourself of the comma’s basic function as a separator and justifying the separation of elements. In the end, you simply must make a habit of reading, writing, and revising with comma correctness in mind.


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