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“The rule is: don’t use commas like a stupid person. I mean it.”

Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

English 101: The mighty comma

The comma is the most widely used form of punctuation and often is used incorrectly. Here are a few tips on how to use the comma like a pro.

Use a comma for:

  1. Independent clauses: groups of words that contain a subject and verb and could be punctuated as a complete sentence

          Mary liked the idea of living in Rome, but her husband disliked the traffic.

  1. Introductory elements: Introductory descriptive information must be followed by a comma.

          After the movie was over, Sally started home to Winter Park.

  1. Items in a series: Use a comma to separate words or phrases in a series of three or more.

          Tina’s book is now on sale at bookstores, Amazon.com, and her website.

4. Non-restrictive clause – Groups of words that give descriptive information not essential to the sentence. A quick way to spot           these clauses is to look for phrases that begin with which, who, and whose.

        Alice Munro, who has won numerous awards, is her favorite author.

5. Non-restrictive phrases – Groups of words that adds details that are not essential to the meaning of the sentence and that  interrupt the sentence.

      Tony Smith, living at 123 Grand Lake Drive, lost his dog.

If the detail changes the meaning of the sentence you do not need a comma. For instance:

The man living at 123 Grand Lake Drive lost his dog.

6. Dates: Separate day, month, and year by a comma. When only the month and day are given no comma is needed.

He was born on Sunday, June 12, 1995, in Delaware.

He was born June 12 in Delaware.

  1. Titles: Lowercase titles when they do not have a name attached to them.

The president gave a statement.

Capitalize titles when they are used attached to one or more names.

Today President Obama signs the Medicare bill.

The Vice Presidents Al Gore and Joe Biden met in Orlando.

For long titles use a comma to set off name and title.

Brian Greene, senior editor of business development at Stockworld  magazine, says ….

Conquer the comma and you’ll be the grammar pro in your office.




Homophone Madness: Popular Words that Sound the Same but Have Very Different Meanings

Here’s a list of common words that are often misspelled and will fly under the spellcheck radar.

accept: to receive (She accepted the gift.)

except: to exclude verb (Millie could eat everything on the buffet except the shrimp scampi.)

affect: to influence

effect: (noun) a result

effect: (verb) to accomplish

a lot: many (alot is not a word)

allot: to set aside a portion

all ready: ready to go

already: happened before (previously)

all right: correct

alright: Common misspelling. The correct form is all right.

council: assembly

counsel: advice or to advise

farther: refers to distance

further: to an extent (Let’s discuss the matter further at the meeting.)

fewer: small in number: fewer cars on the road

less: smaller but not in number exp. less traffic, less pollution,

(use less when referring to units of money and time)

isle: an island

aisle: a passage (The bride glides down the aisle.)

lie: the opposite of truth

lie down: means to rest

lose: opposite of win

loose: opposite of tight (loose screw)

precede: to go before

proceed: continue to move forward (The meeting will proceed)

personal: private

personnel: persons

range: to differ within a limit (The students ranged from eighteen to fifty years old.)

vary: to change or differ (The students varied in age.)

right: correct

write: to record

rite: a ceremony

used to: past tense phrase – do not use the term “use to” (The store used to be open on Sunday)

weak: the opposite of strong

week: the days of the week

woman: singular

women: possessive (a group of women)

your: this is the possessive form of you

you’re: contraction for “you are”

yore: does not mean “you are” this spelling means long ago (exp. Days of yore)




What are the parts of speech?

Traditional English grammar has eight parts of speech adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, interjections, nouns, prepositions, pronouns and verbs. I have seen this question on Jeopardy several times, so if a spin on Jeopardy is in your future take note.

Here are the parts of speech with examples:

  1. Adjectives: Word that modifies or describes a noun.

big dog (what kind of dog?)

loud neighbors (what kind of neighbors?)

  1. Adverbs: Word that modifies a verb and tells how, when, where, or to what degree the action of the verb is done.

Jen sings loudly (sings how?)

Stella dances gracefully (dances how?)

Tina ran yesterday (ran when?)

  1. Conjunctions: Word that joins other words or groups of words together. A great way to memorize conjunctions is to use the acronym FANBOYS (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so)

Words: Cats and dogs.

Word groups: Cats are smart, but dogs are more friendlier.

  1. Interjections: Words that are used to convey surprise, warning, or emotion. (Wow! Hey!)

Wow! That dog barks loudly.

Hey! Watch out for that run away llama.

5.  Nouns: Words that name a person, place, or thing.

Person: Accountant, writer, Johnny Appleseed, kid

Place: Mt. Dora, Cincinnati, Main Street, ocean, office building

Thing: apple, car, hammer, plant

Nouns can also include a general quality and not a physical object: freedom, love, kindness, patience, democracy.

6. Prepositions: A connecting word that shows how the noun that follows it connects it to another part of the sentence.

Common prepositions:


about beneath in front of since
above beside inside through (out)
against besides instead of to
among between like toward
as by near under
as well as despite next to underneath
at down off until
because of during onto up
before except out (of) upon
behind from outside with/ within
below in addition to past without


  1. Pronouns: Takes the place of a noun. Common pronouns include I, me, myself, we, you, he, his, she, it, them, who, this, everyone, all.
  2. Verbs: Tells what the subject does, did, or will do such as run, write, manipulate, investigate, twirls.

Exp: Dogs run. (subject: dogs verb: run)

Extra tip: Verbs can also be referred to as a predicate. In order to make up a complete sentence you must have a subject and a verb/predicate.

Example: Girls sing. (subject: girls verb: sing)