The Quickest and Simplest Guide to Using Commas Ever Invented!

Ever searched for a guide on using commas?

If you have, you’ve probably found yourself confronted with a hot mess of overcomplicated grammar rules.

Gees… is using a comma really that complicated?

Actually, no. Thanks to us (patting self on back).

We’ve taken the hit for you, screened dozens of grammar guides, and come up with a quick and simple comma cheat sheet that summarizes all the complicated comma use rules in one handy table. We’ve even thrown in some tips about the Oxford comma.

If you’re looking for a more in-depth guide to using commas, check out our article on comma rules. We also have a comprehensive guide to proofreading punctuation available.

Using commas correctly: A super simple guide

Using Commas: A Quick and Simple Cheat Sheet

Rule and Details Example Dos Don’ts
Rule 1: Use commas to separate words and word groups in a simple series of three or more items. My favorite colors are red, green, and blue.
  • Use the Oxford comma for clarity.
  • Omit the Oxford comma if there is no risk of confusion
  • Do not omit the Oxford comma if it can cause confusion.
Rule 2: Use a comma to separate two adjectives when the order of the adjectives is interchangeable. She is a talented, young actress. Use a comma when the order of adjectives can be reversed.
Rule 3a: Avoid using a comma to join two independent clauses without a conjunction. Incorrect: He ran all the way home, he shut the door quickly behind him. Use a period to separate two independent clauses or use a conjunction to connect them. Do not use a comma to connect two independent clauses without a conjunction.
Rule 3b: Use a comma to separate two independent clauses joined by a conjunction. Correct: He ran all the way home, and he quickly shut the door behind him. Use a comma before the conjunction when joining two independent clauses. Do not omit the comma before the conjunction.
Rule 3c: Use a comma before a coordinating conjunction that joins two independent clauses if the subject does not appear in front of the second verb. Clearer with comma: I saw that she was busy, and prepared to leave. Use a comma when needed for clarity.
Rule 3d: Use a comma before the word “because” only if needed for clarity. The twins didn’t attend Tulane, because their parents went there. Use a comma when it is needed for clarity.
Rule 4a: Use a comma after a dependent clause or introductory phrase. If you need help, call me.
Rule 4b: Omit a comma when the sentence starts with an independent clause followed by a dependent clause. Let me know now if you are not sure about this.
Rule 5a: Use commas to set off nonessential words, clauses, and phrases. My brother, who lives in London, is coming to visit.
Rule 5b. If something or someone is sufficiently identified, the description that follows is considered nonessential and should be surrounded by commas. Liz, who has a beautiful smile, is coming over tonight. Use commas when a description is nonessential.
Rule 6a. Use a comma after certain words that introduce a sentence, such as well, yes, why, hello, hey, etc. No, I don’t think I can make it.
Rule 6b. Use commas to set off expressions that interrupt the sentence flow (nevertheless, after all, by the way, on the other hand, however, etc.) John, on the other hand, loves chocolate.
Rule 6c. In general, use commas to set off the word “too” midsentence. However, it is usually not necessary to precede too with a comma at the end of a sentence. I, too, love to travel.
Rule 7. Use commas to set off the name, nickname, term of endearment, or title of a person directly addressed. Will you, sir, help me with this? Use commas when directly addressing a person.
Rule 8. Use a comma to separate the day of the month from the year, and always put one after the year, too. My birthday is on June 5, 2001. If the sentence continues, don’t forget to put a comma after the year.
Rule 9. Use a comma to separate a city from its state, and remember to put a comma after the state, too. I live in San Francisco, California. If the sentence continues, don’t forget to put a comma after the state.
Rule 10. Traditionally, if a person’s name is followed by Sr. or Jr., a comma follows the last name: Martin Luther King, Jr. This comma is no longer considered mandatory. However, if a comma does precede Sr. or Jr., another comma must follow the entire name when it appears midsentence. David Lee Roth, Jr., is a musician.
Rule 11. Similarly, use commas to enclose degrees or titles used with names. Dr. Jane Smith, MD, is a surgeon.
Rule 12a. Use commas to introduce or interrupt direct quotations of dialogue or text. “I’ll be there soon,” she said.
Rule 12b. If the quotation comes before he said, she wrote, they reported, Dana insisted, or a similar attribution, end the quoted material with a comma, even if it is only one word. “No,” she whispered. Use a comma at the end of a quoted material,  even if it is only one word.
Rule 12c: A quotation that functions as a subject or object might not need a comma. “I don’t care” is all you can say to me. Use a comma if the quotation is followed by a descriptive phrase. Don’t use a comma if the quotation is followed by a dependent clause.
Rule 12d: A quoted question ending midsentence replaces a comma with a question mark. “Will you still be my friend?” asked LaDonna.
Rule 13: Use a comma to separate a statement from a question. Can I go, or should I stay? Don’t use a comma to separate two questions.
Rule 14: Use a comma to separate contrasting parts of a sentence. The money is mine, not yours. Don’t use a comma between parts of a sentence that are not contrasting.
Rule 15a. Use a comma before and after certain introductory words or terms, such as namely, that is, i.e., e.g., including, and for instance, when they are followed by a series of items. There are many types of fruits, e.g., apples, bananas, oranges, and mangoes. Use commas before and after introductory words or terms that are followed by a list of items. Don’t forget to use commas before and after the introductory word or term.
Rule 15b. Commas should precede the term etc. and enclose it if it is placed midsentence. The party supplies, such as balloons, streamers, plates, cups, etc., are in the box. Don’t use etc. at the end of a list, as it is redundant.


And there we have it… your days of sorting through complex punctuation guides to figure out the rules to using commas are well and truly behind you!