We all know that punctuation is important. (If you have seen that bit about eating your grandma, you really should. It will make a world of difference if you are one of those who have not been converted to the punctuation fan club.) But punctuation can be confusing, particularly – well, all of it, really, but in this case we are going to discuss the proper use of commas.
And since there are so many rules and directions for using commas, the rules need to be broken up into digestible chunks. Let’s start with names, dates and places.
Rule Number One: Use a comma before or before and after a person or the title of a person being directly addressed.
Now let’s put that into actual use.
Leah went to the store. Or… Leah, let’s go to the store.
If you are speaking ABOUT Leah, you do not need the comma. If you are speaking TO Leah, you need the comma. As for titles, take a look at this next example:
The officer pulled me over. Or… What did I do wrong, Officer?
A side-note about this rule that is vitally important: when addressing someone by their title, it is proper to capitalize it. (Think of it as their name, in a way.)
Rule Number Two: Using commas in suffixes attached to names
We all know someone who is a Jr. or a Sn. or a I, II or III. But we don’t all know how to properly punctuate those types of things.
Names with any of those above do NOT need a comma; however, people with a suffix to their name, such as a doctor, DO need these.
For example: John Black, M.D., was a friend of Chuck White Sn. and his son Chuck White Jr.
Rule Number Three: Use a comma around additional description if the subject has been sufficiently identified.
What does that mean? It means that if the subject is named with an actual name, like Sara, you need commas to describe her. If you say ‘the girl’, you do not need commas. Here, take a look at it in action.
Sara, the captain of the volleyball team, is a senior in high school. Or… The girl who is the captain of the volleyball team is a senior in high school.
See the difference?
Rule Number Four: Use a comma between the day of the month and the year and after the year.
Most of us know how to use this rule, but for those who might be confused, it’s best just to see it in example form.
April 19, 2010 . Or… Today is April 19, 2010, my sister’s birthday.
Rule Number Five: Do not use a comma if any part of the date is omitted.
Once again, this rule is easier seen than said. If part of the date is missing, you don’t need a comma.
We went on vacation in July 2009.
Rule Number Six: Use commas to separate the city from the state and the state from the city unless you use the state abbreviation.
This one is pretty self-explanatory as well. If you are speaking of a city and the state in which that city is you need a comma unless you are abbreviating the state with its two-letter abbreviation.
I went to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and watched a football game. Or… I went to Pittsburgh, PA and watched a football game.
Side-note: You don’t use any punctuation on an envelop when writing out addresses.
And that’s it for now, grammar enthusiasts. Look for parts two and three soon in which I’ll address the other uses of commas.
(Also, please don’t kill me if I made some tiny typo error. Yes, I realize it’s an article about grammar.)
The Grammar Book