Comma Come-ons

“How does one remember all the comma rules? Can you give me a comma refresher course so I don’t have to pay for one?” Although I have never actually been asked these questions, I can’t help but think they are lurking in my readers’ minds.

Let’s start with independent and dependent clauses.

Independent ClauseA group of words containing a subject and verb and stating a complete thought. An independent clause, like an independent person, can stand alone (and have meaning) and is, in essence, a sentence.
The cat played (contains a subject and verb and forms a complete thought).

Dependent Clause: Generally a group of words containing a subject and verb—but dependent on the rest of the sentence to make sense. Like a dependent person, a dependent clause cannot stand alone. Usually a dependent clause starts with an adverb (after, before, until, while, etc.):

While the dog ate (contains a subject and verb but doesn’t form a complete thought)

When the independent clause precedes the dependent clause, you generally don’t need a comma:

The cat played while the dog ate.

When the dependent clause precedes the independent clause, you generally need a comma:

While the dog ate, the cat played.

Without a comma, the sentence would read like this and, therefore, be confusing to the reader:

While the dog ate the cat played.

If the writer uses the comma correctly, he or she helps the reader avoid rereading the sentence to try to figure out its meaning.

More comma corrections to comma… I mean come.


My English Quarters
Hallie Belt, M.A. and B.A., English