Posted by: Jack Henry | July 14, 2020

Editor’s Corner: Comma Refresher

Say hello to my little friend! No, not Al Pacino’s “little friend” in Scarface—my little friend, the comma! There are so many rules for this little piece of punctuation, I think it helps to review them now and then. Today we’ll look at half of my handy list and some examples. There are quite a few specific rules, but the following will give you a good starting point.

Rule 1

Use commas to separate independent clauses when joined by one of these seven conjunctions:

and, but, for, or nor, so, yet.


  • Today is a beautiful day, so I am going for a swim.
  • I used conditioner on my hair, yet it is still tangled.

Rule 2

Use commas after introductory a) clauses, b) phrases, or c) words that come before the main clause. Common starter words for introductory clauses that should be followed by a comma include the following:

  • after
  • although
  • as
  • because
  • if
  • since
  • when
  • while


  • When I see puppies, it fills my heart with glee.
  • I fell in love with him, because he sang me Green Day songs.

Rule 3
Use a pair of commas in the middle of a sentence to set off clauses, phrases, and words that are not essential to the meaning of the sentence. Use one comma before to indicate the beginning of the pause and one at the end to indicate the end of the pause. (You may remember a discussion about using parentheses and em dashes in a similar way. Just remember, this use is for nonessential information.)


  • Clause: This Saturday, which happens to be the Fourth of July, is the day new car arrives at the dealership.
  • Phrase: There are a lot of rich people at this party. The donations, on the other hand, don’t reflect that at all.
  • Word: Joanne’s cooking is beautiful. In this case, however, it looks like it came out of a can.

Rule 4

Use commas to separate three or more words in a series. Yes, this is the serial comma that some of you resist, but this rule is in our JHA Style Guide and in the Chicago Manual of Style. Learn to love it! Embrace it! If you haven’t met it, I’d like to introduce you to your new little friend!


  • We love to serve fruit salad with cantaloupe, strawberries, watermelon, and grapes.
  • Caleb, Vinay, and Piper are coming to help us move.

Note: The serial comma is the comma after the second-to-last term and before the conjunction. In the phrase “parameters, fields, and privileges,” the serial comma is the comma after fields.

Al Pacino as Tony Montana, with his “little friend” the Colt AR-15 assault rifle.

Kara Church

Pronouns: she/her/hers

Technical Editor, Advisory

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