engcit grammar online

art courtesy of
Janet Preslar, FrActivity

Punctuation 1: Semi-Colons
and Commas

    The SEMI-COLON connects independent clauses (see CS/RUN-ON discussion), with the added aspect of linking the ideas of the two connected sentences. Both sentences on either side must be independent clauses.
    Ex.: I'm hungry; I want a sandwich. It was cold; we put on our jackets.
    The Semi-Colon is also used for separating items in a list in which the items themselves have commas.
    Ex.: I have a tall, athletic, middle-aged uncle; a short, pudgy, gray-haired grandmother; and a spry, lanky, young-at-heart cousin.

  • COMMAS ,
    COMMAS are the most abused and misused of the punctuation marks. Knowing how to use them is important for clear writing (see CS/RUN-ON discussion). Let's start with when to use the comma. With a few exceptions, the following are the primary instances when a comma is necessary.
      Ex. The road was long, and the day was hot. but not used in: The road was long and dusty.
      Nor: The road was long and never seemed to end.

    2. after a subordinate clause that begins a sentence (adverbials like when, where, while, during, because, etc.)
      Ex. If you like soda, try a Dr. Pepper.
      Because of the drought, I wasn't allowed to wash my ferret.
      For more information, see your handbook or consult your instructor.

    3. before an adjective clause (who, which, where phrase) [when the noun is not a proper noun (like a name) the comma may be optional; the addition of commas changes meaning of sentence]
      Ex. My friend, who is a doctor, was in college for 12 years. (optional)
      Sara, who lives in Chicago, is Kelsey's best friend. (not optional)
      Citrus College, where I attend classes, is in Glendora (not optional)
      But not: Anyone who lives in Los Angeles is crazy.
      Nor: The woman that lives across the street has 43 cats.

    4. conjunctive adverbs and other introductory phrases (however, for example, on the other hand)
      Ex. However, it does give you a good idea when to include a comma.
      For instance, see the following sentence.
      Furthermore, see your book.

    5. appositives (phrases inserted in a sentence that add information about the noun that precedes the phrase)
      Ex. Deke, the captain of the cheerleading team, rowed back to shore.
      My neighbor, a real lunatic, painted his house orange.

    6. (more than two) items in a series (comma between last two items is usually optional)
      Ex. I have a toad, a rock and a squeegee.
      We saw Harry, Sue and Janet walking through Disneyland.
      Hortense, Gertrude, and Mabel were each wearing green, red, and blue earrings.

    7. the not...but... phrase.
      Ex. She realized it was not John, but Sue who made the phonecalls.
      Steve understood he was not going to be happy, but rather tired instead.
    8. non-restrictive elements in a sentence (gerund phrase inserted in a sentence that adds another concurrent action perforned by the subject that precedes the phrase)
      Ex. We sat by the old folks, talking about old times. (sitting and talking occurring at same time)
      Carsten yelled, hoping someone would listen. (yelling and hoping at the same time)
      We sat on the sofa, watching television. (sitting and watching occurring at same time)

    9. in front of a quotation
      Ex. Cheryl said, "I'm hungry."
      Jones noted that, "Socrates formed a basic understanding of the universe that lasted for nearly two thousand years" (432).

    10. at the end of a quotation that is followed by non-quoted text.
      Ex. "It's late," said Andrew, pointing at the clock.
      "'A mere cough will not kill me'" (Poe 327), is a good example of dramatic irony.

    11. miscellaneous
      "common usage" commas
      1. separation between city and state: San Diego, CA
      2. date and year: August 3, 2001
      3. every three numerals in a number: 1,000,000
This list is not exhaustive. However, it does give you a good idea when to include a comma. For more information, see your handbook or consult your instructor.

Updated December 15, 1999
© Mr. Thomas T. Eiland