Wednesday, 9 September 2020

The comma

Who knew? There are SEVEN use categories for the comma. They are: the listing comma (twice); the joining comma; the gapping comma; the numeric comma; introductory clause comma; and the bracketing comma.

A superficial and highly simplified definition and example of each follows:
Non-restrictive comma (aka bracketing comma): This is where we use a pair of commas to "mark off a non-restrictive word, phrase, or clause which comments on the main clause or supplies additional information about it" (Waddington, 2014, p. 74; Brabazon, 2020). For example: 'I walked my dog, Finn, down the road.'
Comma splice (aka joining comma): this is where we run two unrelated phrases together, using a comma. Instead, we should use a semicolon or write two separate sentences (Waddington, 2014). For example, 'I walked my dog, I went to the local shop' becomes 'I walked my dog, and I went to the local shop.'
Introductory clause comma: Where a "sentence is introduced by an adverb, adverbial phrase, or subordinate clause, this is often separated from the main clause with a comma" (Waddington, 2014, p. 75). For example: 'However, I walked my dog to the shop every day.' 
Adjective separating comma (aka qualitative or listing comma): this is where we SOMETIMES separate descriptive words in a list of descriptive terms. We do comma qualitative adjectives (Waddington, 2014). We don't comma words from different classification systems. For example: 'I walk my tall, rangy dog' versus 'I walk my red Boxer dog'.
Serial comma (also aka listing comma): This is where we add a comma to a list to separate each item for the reader (Waddington, 2014; Brabazon, 2020). For example: 'I walk my dog, cat, sheep, and horse' (however, I prefer to rework my sentences to use semicolons where possible as I feel they make the separations in a list much clearer).
Numeric comma: This is the comma we use as a 1000s separator in large numbers (Waddington, 2014). For example: 1,000,000.
Gapping comma: this is where we don't repeat words, but assume the reader will impute them. For example: "the PhD is the highest qualification and the associate certificate, the lowest" (Brabazon, 2020).
What I also find interesting is that in New Zealand we have adopted the US method of placing a comma after an "i.e." and an "e.g.". In the UK they don't (Waddington, 2014).


  • Brabazon, T. (10 April 2020). Vlog 212 - Comma.
  • Waddingham, A. (Ed.) (2014). New Hart's Rules: The Oxford style guide (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press.

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