Conquer the Commas
Commas and semi-colons confuse the best of us. Here is some useful advice.
The comma (,) and the semicolon (;) are two of the most mis-used punctuation marks in our language. This is partly because using them wrongly doesn’t usually change the meaning of the sentence – it just interferes with its clarity. Fortunately, there are some simple rules that should help you decide which is the most appropriate in a particular sentence.
Commas are typically used to separate a number of items that appear next to each other in a sentence:
- I’d like eggs, bacon, toast, juice and coffee for breakfast.
- My father is old, infirm and forgetful these days
- We hopped, skipped and jumped our way to the beach
Notice how the final two words in the list are separated by the word ‘and’ rather than a comma.
Commas are also used when you want to join two short sentences together to make one longer one. Take these two as an example:
1. It was a cold night.
2. I longed for a hot bath.
These two sentences can be linked by a comma and the word ‘and’:
It was a cold night, and I longed for a hot bath.
This reads well, and when spoken, it sounds right, too. But what if we lose the word ‘and’?
It was a cold night, I longed for a hot bath
Suddenly it doesn’t sound so good, and it is grammatically wrong (technically known as a 'run-on' sentence in case that interests you). Replace the comma with a semicolon, however, and we’re back on track:
It was a cold night; I longed for a hot bath
Here's another example:
1. All of the films sounded good.
2. We couldn’t decide which to watch.
With the comma, we need to add 'so' or 'and':
All of the films sounded good, so we couldn’t decide which to watch
With the semicolon, we can leave it out:
All of the films sounded good; we couldn’t decide which to watch.
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