Five Quick and Easy Comma Rules

Five Quick and Easy Comma Rules

Here’s a serious truth bomb for you: You actually don’t need to use a comma in every sentence. I know, right? Mind = blown. Commas may make us feel like better writers when we use them, but honestly if they are overused or used incorrectly—it makes you look like an amateur writer.

Forget the boring grammar books and long resources found online—and check out this quick guide to basic comma use. Here are the top 5 “Comma Commandments”: 

1.     Don’t use a comma because it “feels” right. Just don’t. It’s probably not.

2.     Does your sentence have a list? Yes? Then you need a serial comma before the last and.

a.     Bad: I like lettuce, tomato and onion on my burger.

b.     Good: I like lettuce, tomato, and onion on my burger.

See that comma before the and? That little guy is called a serial (or Oxford) comma. He’s your friend when it comes to lists.

3.     Watch out for FANBOYS. This handy mnemonic will help you remember that if you have two independent clauses connected by for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so (Get it? FANBOYS?) then you need a comma.

a.     Bad: I wanted to do my homework but I played basketball instead.

b.     Good: I wanted to do my homework, but I played basketball instead.

The but is part of FANBOYS. So slap a comma in there.

4.     Using an introductory clause like however, generally, or moreover requires a comma.

a.     Bad: However if it rains the game will be rescheduled.

b.     Good: However, if it rains the game will be rescheduled.

Introductory clauses are often more than one word. That’s OK. No matter how long your introductory clause is be sure there is a comma after it.

5.     Are you using two or more adjectives to describe something? Then you need a comma.

a.     Bad: My English teacher has a boring monotone voice.

b.     Good: My English teacher has a boring, monotone voice.

Don’t let commas confuse you. Keep these 5 Comma Commandments in mind when writing your next essay for a nice grade boost in the grammar department.

Feel this list is too short—or you still have many unanswered questions about commas? We’ve got your back. Here are some great links to WriteLab’s Learning Guide with examples:

Also, some of America’s best universities have writing centers with wonderful resources. For example, The Writing Center at UNC-Chapel Hill and Purdue Online Writing Lab.

Lastly, don’t forget to copy your draft into WriteLab and look at the grammar comments before submitting to your teacher.


WriteLab is an online writing platform that offers immediate, actionable responses to your prose as you draft, revise, and polish your writing.

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