How to Use a Freakin' Comma

Want even more deets on How to Use a Freakin' Comma? Click here to sign up for a subscription and gain access to all of our online courses. Or take a look at our entire grammar section for all the goods.

English I EOC Assessment Commas
Grammar & Punctuation Punctuation
Language English Language
Punctuation Commas

Transcript

00:34

of us use nearly every single day...

00:36

...and yet many of us are still clueless.

00:40

The poor comma is misused more than the blunt end of a screwdriver.

00:45

But we're going to set things straight.

00:47

So sit back, relax, and allow us to tell you everything you need to know about our curvy

00:52

little friend. So... when should you use a comma?

00:57

When separating out phrases that don't need to be there.

01:01

So you're writing a sentence and you want to add a little color commentary. Add it between

01:06

commas.

01:07

"My pug, Morton, is lazy."

01:11

Take out what's between the commas, and the sentence won't buckle.

01:14

Sure, Morton is totally appreciative of the shout-out, but if you removed his name...

01:20

and the two commas... the sentence would still send the same message.

01:24

"My pug is lazy." So in this instance, the comma is used to rope off non-essential information.

01:30

Sorry, Morton. We promise we don't consider you non-essential. Not that you'd ever get

01:36

off your duff to do anything about it. When linking two independent clauses with

01:43

a conjunction.

01:44

If you need a refresher, conjunctions include your "ifs," your "ands," your "buts" and your

01:48

"coconuts."

01:49

Ok, maybe not the coconuts.

01:53

When you've got two halves of a sentence that could exist on their own...

01:56

...but you're lumping 'em together...

01:57

...you'll use a comma and a conjunction to make them play nice with each other.

02:02

As in: "I'd like to go to Six Flags, but it's my day to clean the bathroom."

02:07

You could say "I'd like to go to Six Flags. It's my day to clean the bathroom."...

02:11

...but by adding a comma and a conjunction, you can say both. And you can make your obvious

02:17

bitterness so much more pronounced. When you're addressing someone in particular.

02:24

As opposed to all those times you go out onto your balcony to address the masses collectively.

02:31

This one can be a lifesaver... literally.

02:35

Just check out the difference between "Let's eat, Grandma!" and "Let's eat Grandma!"

02:40

Grandma only survives the first example. And it would really be a shame if she kicked the

02:45

bucket this close to her 90th birthday. When making a list.

02:55

A list of... inappropriate ways to use commas, for example.

02:59

Suppose we want to communicate that our favorite foods are "peanut butter M&Ms, Brussels sprouts,

03:06

and fried... anything."

03:08

But what about that last comma? You might have noticed that not everyone drops a comma

03:12

in that spot.

03:13

But Shmoop does. That last comma—also known as the serial or Oxford comma--can help alleviate

03:19

list confusion...

03:21

Like if we were to say, "Shmoop's role models are their parents, William Shakespeare and

03:26

Toni Morrison."

03:28

Although they possibly used to date... in some bizarre, alternate universe... Billy

03:33

Shakes and Toni M are not our parents.

03:36

Instead, we're naming three separate things. So we would write it this way:

03:41

"Shmoop's role models are their parents, William Shakespeare, and Toni Morrison."

03:47

People have gotten into full-on brawls over this one, but Shmoop says: Don't be a serial

03:52

comma killer. When you have more than one adjective modifying

03:57

a noun.

03:58

As in, "The brilliant, hilarious Shmoop." We could keep adding complimentary adjectives

04:03

all day long, but we think those two probably get our point across.

04:08

After introductory phrases or clauses.

04:12

Once we're done with this example, we'll move on to the next one.

04:15

<<Pause.>> That was it. Our example. Did you miss it?

04:21

So is that all? Those are the only times you need a comma? Well, no.

04:25

There are some other instances... dates, the ending of a letter, geographical locations,

04:31

et cetera... but these six are the biggies. But when shouldn't you use a comma?

04:37

The easy answer is... all other times.

04:40

You should never use a comma just because you feel like a sentence could use a good

04:43

pause...

04:44

...or because the period key on your keyboard is broken. Call Geek Squad... they'll hook

04:50

you up. But here are a few specific times when people

04:54

tend to get tripped up... When separating two independent clauses without

05:01

a conjunction.

05:03

A run-on sentence, believe it or not, isn't necessarily a long sentence.

05:08

If you plug a comma somewhere it doesn't belong, you can actually make a very short sentence

05:13

a run-on.

05:13

It might be more of a jog... but still.

05:17

Try this one on for size: "I eat, I sleep."

05:21

First of all... way to keep your priorities in order. But secondly... we've got a run-on

05:25

sentence here.

05:26

Both parts of the sentence could function on their own as complete sentences, and they

05:30

can't be joined by just a comma.

05:32

Without their conjunction buddy, it simply doesn't work.

05:35

This specific type of run-on sentence is called a comma-splice. And they're as painful as

05:40

they sound. After the conjunction.

05:46

So none of this: "You think you're wrong but, I think you're right."

05:51

Ugh. We just cold a cold chill. And finally, when separating a dependent and

05:58

independent clause with a conjunction.

06:01

Translation: a comma would be totally inappropriate here:

06:05

"We ran to the kitchen, and started to down some cookies."

06:09

"Started to down some cookies" isn't its own sentence, so even with the conjunction there,

06:14

the comma has to go.

06:15

Besides, the comma is only going to slow you down in your quest for those cookies.

06:19

Make sure you bring enough to share with the whole class.

06:22

So yeah, there are a few rules to keep straight...

06:24

....but it isn't brain surgery.

06:25

If it were... there would certainly be a lot of people praying not

07:59

to fall into a comma.