Commas are something that everyone uses in their writing but are often uses incorrectly. Many people believe that a comma is interchangeable with a period or that it should be used whenever you would pause naturally while reading out loud. However, the grammatical rules that concern commas are more complicated than this.

How can you tell if you are using a comma incorrectly or not? Incorrect use of commas can make your sentences difficult to understand and can detract from the meaning of your writing. Read on for a few grammar basics that will help you in your writing.

When to Use Commas

One of the most common ways to use a comma is to separate the items of a list.

“I’m going to the supermarket to buy sugar, flour, eggs and milk.”

Commas are also used to separate an introductory phrase from the main clause.

“Smiling playfully, she pushed him away.”

A comma can also be used to separate words and phrases which are nonessential from the main clause. In this usage, the sentence should still make sense if you were to take out all of the nonessential words.

“The cheerleaders, who were warming up for the competition, practiced their human pyramid.”

In this example, you could say “The cheerleaders practiced their human pyramid.” This would still be a complete sentence that makes sense.

You can also use a comma when you are setting off words which are part of a direct address, including yes, no and proper names.

“Lisa, would you like some more pie?”

“No thanks, I’m trying to watch my figure.”

Another usage of commas is to separate a direct quote from the rest of the sentence.

Daniel shouted, “Be careful of the snakes in the woods!”

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When Not to Use Commas

One of the most common mistakes is when people place a comma between the subject and a verb in an independent clause.

“Driving in inclement weather, is especially challenging for an inexperienced driver.”

This sentence has no need for a comma at all and would be correct without it.

“Driving in inclement weather is especially challenging for an inexperienced driver.”

You also should not add a comma before the last or the first item when you are making a list. For example, the following sentence is incorrect.

“I have worked more hours this week in my free time on my kitchen renovation than, Mary, Josh, Oliver, or Sandra, have at their jobs.”

The comma before Mary and the comma after Sandra should be eliminated to make the sentence correct.

Most of the time, the common errors that you might make with commas will be caught by your software such as Microsoft Word. If you are writing an important essay, application, business letter or manuscript, you might want to have your work checked by an editor or give it an extra proofread with a specialized grammar check to make sure everything is correct.