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Commas help group ideas and categorize parts of your sentence.


Use commas:

  1. to separate a dependant clause from an independent clause: When I get home at night, I turn on the TV and eat a whole tub of ice cream.
  2. after a coordinating conjunction. These include for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so (FANBOYS). I’m not always polite, but I mean well.
  3. to separate lists of three or more things: My favorite cookies are made with chocolate chips, butterscotch, and rolled oats
  4. to insert additional or non-essential content in a sentence: The professor, a bumbling idiot, never quite figured out how to teach the class.
  5. to separate two or more coordinate adjectives. What is a coordinate adjective? Adjectives that aren’t attached to each other and are equally important for modifying the noun. For example: “Australia” was an exceptionally long, boring movie.

Tip: test if adjectives are coordinating by adding and between them. If you can add it and it isn’t awkward, they pass the test.

Don’t use commas:

  1. between a subject and a predicate.
    • incorrect: My nose, is very large.
    • correct: My nose is very large.
  2. between two independent clauses (complete thoughts that can stand alone as sentences). What should you use instead? Try:
    • a period- this may help simplify, but can get tedious if used too often. Short sentences are good for clarity.
    • a semicolon- relieves the simplicity of a period. Add a conjunction to smooth out the sentence; leave it out for effect.
    • a comma with a conjunction- this is a good choice because it gives the sentence enough length to not insult the readers.
    • a subordinating conjunction (sc)- semicolons add a dry, formal touch, whereas sc’s flow naturally. Commas are there to help you clarify your point by grouping ideas. It’s up to you to add them where necessary for effect, but overdo them and expect a flogging from your editor.

Parentheses (Brackets)

Parentheses (round brackets) tell you when writing is independent of the main text. The information within parentheses may not be necessary, but helps clarify.


  1. If parentheses come at the end of a sentence, put the period on the outside parenthesis (like this).
  2. (If the entire sentence is within parentheses, keep the period inside.)
  3. Use square brackets to show:

a) you are adding or changing words in an original quotation. This is sometimes necessary when the quotation is unclear or was misspoken. For example:

Original: “Many of them don’t know what they are doing.”

Modified: “Many of [the teachers] don’t know what they are doing.”

b) brackets within brackets. (Sometimes you’ll need them [but not often]).

Golden Rules

Each type of punctuation has its own rules, but here are a few basics to keep in mind when marking up your paper:

  1. Periods come at the end of sentences.
  2. Leave no space between punctuation and the preceding word (except parentheses and quotation marks).
  3. A single space comes after almost all punctuation. The exceptions are parentheses, quotation marks, and hyphenated words, which all have no space between them and the following word. Also, we don’t use typewriters anymore, so there’s no need for putting two spaces between sentences. Keep it uniform with one.
  4. When writing by hand, don’t make extra marks on the paper. Koreans in particular have a habit of putting a dot after writing a word, almost as though they are gathering their thoughts for the next part of the sentence. This creates a false stop, however, which can make your paper difficult to read.
  5. Shorter sentences help make your work more readable. Use full stops frequently to emphasize points or communicate better with children.


Punctuation mistakes take away from your message and make you look unprofessional. It doesn’t matter how amazing your ideas are, basic mistakes in punctuation can stop readers in their tracks, while proper punctuation can harness attention. Use the power of punctuation to let your audience know how the story is told.

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