Comma rules

(Rules for using commas in English texts)

Table of contents – comma rules

On this page you will find the following:

  1. Rules for placing commas
  2. Further explanations and exercises

What is special about the English comma rules?

In general, the use of commas is relatively liberal in the English language. This lack of rigidity means that commas in texts may not be as frequent as in other languages and, thus, rather scarce. The essential comma rules are as follows:

  1. A comma is usually placed between main clauses. Also, it separates main and subordinate clauses if these are at the beginning of a complex sentence (Note: Commas are also often put before connecting words, such as ‘and, but, or’, etc.):
    • “I don’t have any time left, and my car is broken.”
      • This statement is a combination of two main clauses and, therefore, requires a comma.
    • When we arrived at the lake, the ship had already left.”
      • Here, a subordinate clause starts the complex sentence. A comma is needed.
  2. Relative clauses that are not necessary for the understanding of the statement are separated by commas (for details see defining and non-defining relative clauses):
    • “My sister, who knows a lot about geography, helps me with my homework.”
    • “His first car, which he bought in 2003, was a Ford.”
  3. After salutations in sentences:
    • Peter, it was really nice meeting you.”
    • Margret, would you like some more coffee?”
  4. For numbers as a separator for thousands:
    • “Almost 3,000 people were at the concert.”
      • Watch it: This means ‘three thousand’, not ‘three point zero’.
    • “The company spent over 750,000 euros on marketing last year.”
  5. A comma appears in if-sentences when the if-clause is at the beginning:
    • If you told me, I would help you.”
      • With a comma here, as the if-clause begins the complex sentence.
    • “I would help you if you told me.”
      • Without a comma because the if-clause follows as the second part.
  6. In statements that end in ‘please’:
    • “Could you help me with my English, please?”
    • “May I use your bathroom, please?”
  7. For enumerations and lists (the comma before ‘and’ can – but does not have to – be set; for details see Oxford comma):
    • “If you bring eggs, ham, yoghurt, and oranges, we can have a tasty breakfast.”
    • “Harold has already been to Australia, Poland, China, Egypt and Brazil.”
      • Such a list sometimes occurs without a comma before ‘and’. This example shows that this type of comma is not mandatory.
  8. Before question tags or similar expressions:
    • “This is quite interesting, isn’t it?
    • “You speak Italian, right?
  9. After words or phrases that introduce sentences and interjections:
    • Additionally, there are pictures that show more details.”
    • After all, we had an exciting weekend.”
    • Oh, I didn’t know that.”
  10. Between adjectives of equal rank:
    • “Yesterday was a lovely, sunny day.”
    • “This year, we had a long, hot summer.”
  11. If the sentence starts with ‘yes’ or ‘no’, a comma is set:
    • Yes, I know him.”
    • No, this is not Jane’s mobile phone.”
  12. And mostly in direct (quoted) speeches:
    • “My boss said, ‘Work hard, and you can go home early.’
    • ‘Why can’t you just help me?’, she asked and left.”

Further explanations relating to the ‘Comma rules in English texts’

The following explanations are related to the topic ‘English comma rules’ and could therefore be interesting as well: