“the traffic signals of writing”
The Comma [,]
• Misuse of the comma accounts for half of
all punctuation errors. Carefully studying
the following rules should enable you to
punctuate more clearly and effectively.
• On the ACT, you will have 45 minutes to
answer 75 grammar questions. This
information WILL come in handy!
Use a Comma to Set Off…
• Independent (Main) Clauses (Compound
– A comma follows the first of two independent
clauses that are joined by coordinate conjunctions
(and, or , nor, for, but, yet, so)
– The play’s star is Phillip Seymour Hoffman, and its
author is Tennessee Williams.
– We’re happy to be going to the beach for our
vacation, yet we were hoping to go to Disney World.
– I think it’s time to let the cat back in, for he’s making
a terrible racket at the door.
– Taylor did not appreciate the opera’s storyline, nor
did he care for the tenor’s voice.
DO NOT use a comma
• If there is no full clause (S+V) after the
– Wrong: George straightened his tie, and put on his
– Right: George straightened his tie and put on his
– *Exception: If the compound verbs are joined by but, a
comma will set off the contrast: She always carries
bandages with her, but will give them only to bleeding
people to whom she has been formally introduced.
• After the conjunction:
– Wrong: I ordered chicken but, he ordered lobster.
– Right: I ordered chicken, but he ordered lobster.
DO NOT use a comma
• Between very short independent clauses:
– He lies and she cheats.
– You tell me and we’ll both know.
• Between independent clauses not joined by a coordinate
conjunction (use a semicolon instead):
– Wrong: The starting gun sounded, the crowd roared.
• (What kind of error is this?)
– Right: The starting gun sounded; the crowd roared.
• Occasionally, for special effect, the writer may choose to
use polysyndeton, which requires no commas:
– He thought the remark she had made was brilliant or
irrelevant or mad.
– The truth of her checking account was mysterious and
awkward and sad.
Appositives and their Phrases
• Definition: A noun or pronoun—often with
modifiers—set beside another noun of pronoun to
explain or identify it.
– My friend Robert was in town this week.
– Matthew West, a singer, will be performing in
• An APPOSITIVE PHRASE is a phrase consisting
of an appositive and its modifiers:
– Greg’s truck, a gas-guzzling monster from the ’70’s,
was on an episode of Cops not long after he sold it.
• Appositive phrases usually follow the words they
identify, but occasionally they may precede them:
– A lovely Jack Russell terrier mix, Jolie is my constant
companion. (notice the absence of the second comma)
Appositives and their Phrases
• Notice that a nonessential appositive phrase
requires a comma, while an essential appositive
phrase does not.
• If you can take it out without losing anything, it
needs commas.
– Nuclear energy, a controversial alternative to fossil
fuels, has become safer as the technology has
– Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, celebrated
the 50th anniversary of its publishing this summer.
– James Joyce’s novel Ulysses was voted one of the
best books of the 20th century, but I strongly dislike it.
– The baseball player Chipper Jones has been with the
Atlanta Braves for years.
Appositives and their Phrases
• You can indicate number by your own use
of commas:
– My brother, Chris, got married in May.
– My uncle Michael quit his job, sold his house,
and became a truck driver because he
wanted to travel.
Prepositional Phrases
• Use a comma to set off a long introductory
prepositional phrase (7 words or more) or a
series of introductory prepositional phrases:
– After a long, hard day teaching grammar, I like to take
Jolie for a walk.
– In the bitter wind of the Yorkshire moors, Heathcliff
searched for his Cathy.
• Unless clarity demands one, you do not need a
comma after one short introductory phrase:
– In the morning we strolled along the boulevard.
• In general, prepositional phrases elsewhere in a
sentence do not need commas.
Prepositional Phrases
• *EXCEPTIONS (make excellent test questions)
• If the prepositional phrase or series of phrases
introduces an inverted sentence (verb comes
before subject), do not separate it with a comma:
– On a wind-swept hill of the Yorkshire moors stands
Wuthering Heights.
• If a prepositional phrase is a parenthetical
expression, set it off with commas.
– Parenthetical expressions are words or word groups
that interrupt the main flow of thought in a sentence and
are logically close to the rest of the sentence but are
not essential to the meaning of the sentence.
• She was, in my opinion, outstanding.
Verbal phrases
• A verbal is a verb that is being used as
another part of speech (noun, adj., or adv.)
• Remember that a phrase is a group of
related words that lacks either a subject or
a verb or both. A phrase functions as a
single word – noun, adjective, or adverb.
• Three kinds:
– Participles, Infinitives, and Gerunds (PIGs)
Use a Comma to Set Off… Introductory
Verbal Phrases Acting as Modifiers
• Verbal phrases (phrases beginning with a form
of a verb and used as nouns, adjectives, or
adverbs). An introductory participial or infinitive
phrase also needs a comma unless it
immediately precedes, and forms a part of, the
subject or verb.
– Speaking off the record, the mayor admitted the error.
– To play bridge well, you need a good memory.
– BUT NOT – Playing ultimate frisbee has become my
brother’s favorite hobby.
– OR – To play ultimate frisbee requires stamina.
Infinitive Phrases
• Infinitive (to + verb) + Complement or Modifier or
• If used as a subject, an infinitive does not need a
– To become valedictorian would fulfill all his hopes.
• *The only noun infinitives that need to be set off
with commas are infinitives being used as
nonessential appositives:
– His life’s ambition, to become a drummer for a rockand-roll band, was never realized.
– She finally reached her main goal in high school, to
be valedictorian of her graduating class.
Infinitive Phrases
• If it functions as an adjective, an infinitive will
always come immediately after the word being
modified and should NOT be separated from that
word by a comma.
– I’ve decided on a plan to beg for new lunchroom tables
and chairs.
• Set off only introductory adverb phrases (come
at the beginning of the sentence and are NOT the
subject). All others need no commas.
– To play bridge well, you need a good memory.
– We ventured out into the wind to experience the fury of
– Everyone is impatient to write more essays.
Split Infinitives
• When British grammarians sat down and decided on the rules of
English grammar, they borrowed heavily from the rules of Latin
grammar. One of these rules involved something called a split
infinitive. In Latin, an infinitive cannot be split because it is only
one word. In English, though, the infinitive has two parts—to + a
verb—and these parts can be separated from each other: “To
boldly go…” While the rule about splitting infinitives is dropping by
the wayside in everyday conversational English (you will even see
it in print occasionally), we need to be aware of the rule, as it still
appears on standardized tests.
• The rule states that you may not insert an adverb between the to
and its verb. Try to avoid doing this in your own writing. For
example, instead of saying, “…to boldly go…,” the captain should
have said, “…to go boldly” or “…boldly to go.” Yes, it loses some
of its punch, and that is why the rule is slowly fading into the past.
However, since our goal is to sound intelligent, and since there are
so many people who still cringe when they read a split infinitive,
we will be adhering to the rule in this class!
Gerund Phrases
• -ing form + complement or modifiers or both
• The only time a gerund phrase requires commas is if it
functions as an appositive.
Subject: Reading a trashy novel is a waste of time.
DO: How can you enjoy reading a trashy novel?
PN: Her chief pastime is reading a trashy novel.
Appositive: His chief pastime, reading a trashy novel, got him
into trouble with his mother.
– OP: He relaxes by reading a trashy novel.
• ***If the Gerund OP comes at the beginning of the
sentence (behind the preposition, of course), it MUST
be set off with a comma.
– By carrying his heavy books around, Tyler built up his arm
Gerund Phrases
• One other important rule about gerund phrases that
appears on standardized tests:
• If a noun or pronoun precedes a gerund, it must be in the
possessive form. Remember that the gerund is a noun,
too. So just like we use the possessive with the first noun
in front of another noun, we use the possessive in front
of a gerund.
I was surprised by the child’s question.
I was surprised by the child’s asking such a question.
Do you object to my presence?
Do you object to my being present?
Participial Phrases
• A present (-ing) or past (-ed, -d, -en, -n, -t)
participle + complement or modifiers or both
• When a participle appears at the beginning of a
sentence and modifies the noun or pronoun
behind it, you must separate it with a comma.
– Immersed in a trashy novel, the young man ignored
his mother’s pleas to take out the trash.
– Starting school even earlier this year, the students
were only half-awake every morning.
Participial Phrases
• If the participial phrase is essential, do
NOT set it off with commas:
– The young man reading a trashy novel is my
cousin. (We need the information to know
which young man.)
• If the participial phrase is nonessential,
DO set it off with commas:
– Jennifer, playing the piano skillfully, won the
Sentence-Final Participial Phrases
• Participial phrases that come at the end of a sentence
and that obviously modify the subject of the sentence
should be set off with a comma:
– Officer Smiley walked out into the street, smiling and waving at
the people driving by.
• Usage: This form is usually used when the action within the
participial phrase is still ongoing.
– The freshman became flustered, scared suddenly that his
previous study methods were insufficient for success at LAMP.
• Usage: This form is usually used when the action within the
participial phrase is completed.
– INCORRECT: A large twig floated over and jabbed him,
swimming against the current.
– CORRECT: Jimmy, swimming against the current, was jabbed by
a floating twig.
Dangling Modifiers
• A modifying phrase or clause must clearly and
sensibly modify a word (usually the nearest
noun) in the sentence. When there is no word
that the phrase or clause can sensibly modify,
the modifier is said to dangle.
• Thinly sliced and heaped on rye, corned beef
lovers won’t be disappointed by Chappy’s
• What is the dangling modifier above? How do
we fix this sentence?
Dangling Modifiers
• After walking for hours, the cabin
appeared in the distance.
• What is the dangling modifier above? How
do we fix this sentence?
• To be well cooked, you must boil beets for
half an hour.
• What is the dangling modifier above? How
do we fix this sentence?
Dangling Modifiers
• Elliptical Clauses: a clause from which the
subject and all or part of the verb have been
dropped as understood.
• While still a toddler, my father gave me
swimming lessons.
• How can we fix the above sentence to clarify?
NOTE: Ellipsis is permissible only when the
subject of both clauses is the same.
Misplaced Modifiers
• Phrase modifiers (adjective phrases and
participial phrases) should be placed as
near as possible to the words they modify.
• While walking down the street, I saw a
man with a moustache weighing 300 lbs.
• Floating inside the bottle, Mrs. Norman
saw some mysterious specks.
• Notify us if you intend to stay on the
enclosed card.
Dangling and Misplaced Modifiers:
Directions: Find the dangling, misplaced, or
ambiguous modifiers in the following sentences.
Then revise each sentence to clarify.
1. The Simpsons gave a toy robot to one of their
children with a bullet-shaped head and flashing red
2. Pounding the piano keys with all her might, the
chords of the prelude resounded through the
concert hall.
3. The waiter brought us ice cream in glass bowls
which started melting almost immediately.
4. We saw a herd of sheep on the way to our hotel.
5. When only five years old, my father took me to see
my first baseball game.
Dangling and Misplaced Modifiers:
Topped with mounds of whipped cream, most people love
strawberry shortcake.
While trying to get ready for school, the doorbell suddenly
Ms. Wilson said during her seventh period Hayden acted like
a preschooler.
Mrs. Jones asked us before we left to call on her.
Tell Fred when he comes to school I want to see him.
While tuning the radio, the car swerved dangerously toward a
telephone pole.
One can see more than a hundred lakes flying at an altitude
of several thousand feet.
This bank approves loans to reliable individuals of any size.
• Coordinating Conjunctions:
– and
– or
– nor
– for
– yet
– so
– but
• OR use the acronym FANBOYS.
• Subordinating
begin adverb
clauses, which
answer the
when, where,
why, how, to
what extent,
and under what
in the
event that
so (that)
just as
even if
as if
as long
only if
as soon
in case
(or not)
as though
in order
Use a Comma to Set Off…
Absolute Phrases
• An absolute phrase (also called a Nominative
Absolute) consists of a subject + participle +
complement or modifiers or both. It is
grammatically independent of the sentence, but
logically connected to it. It appears at the
beginning or end of a sentence and is ALWAYS
set off with a comma:
• Her face reddening, Miss Piggy karate-chopped
• The magician was kicked out of the theater, his
chicanery having been unmasked.
More Absolute Phrases
• Her hands being cold, she plunged them
into her inadequate pockets and tried to
appreciate the snowstorm as an elemental
• Formalities having been dispensed with,
the students of the month began to devour
the pizza.
• Now write your own!
Use a Comma to Set Off…
• Items in a series.
– Use commas to separate words, phrases, or
clauses in a series of three or more:
– Words: I enjoy the old films of Bogart, Cagney,
Garbo, and Hepburn.
– Phrases: The book is available in bookstores, at
newsstands, or by mail.
– Clauses: She took French lessons, she studied
guidebooks, and she talked to people who had been
to Paris.
NOTE: Some writers omit the comma before and or or
in a series. Including this comma, however, assures
Also use a comma before etc. at the end of a series:
pork, beans, etc.
DO NOT use a comma
• With only two items: Ed bought spaghetti and
• When you repeat and or or between every two
items: Ed bought spaghetti and pork and angel
food cake.
• Before the first item or after the last item:
– Wrong: Ed bought, spaghetti, pork, and cake.
– Right: Ed bought spaghetti, pork, and cake.
– Wrong: Spaghetti, pork, and cake, are not
everyone’s favorites.
– Right: Spaghetti, pork, and cake are not everyone’s
Use a Comma to Set Off…
• Coordinate Adjectives.
– In a series of two or more, use commas to separate
adjectives of EQUAL importance. Do not put a comma
after the last adjective:
– Tall, stately trees lined the roadway.
– Vulgar, snide, or obscene remarks are not appreciated
NOTE: Certain combinations of adjectives flow naturally
together and need no commas, such as little red
schoolhouse or five funny old men. To determine if you
need a comma, see if they sound funny in a different
order: red little schoolhouse, old funny five men. If they
do, omit the comma. Also, if you can insert a coordinate
conjunction between them, they are of equal weight and
will require a comma.
Use a Comma to Set Off…
• Names or Other Words used in Direct Address.
– Henry, why are you slacking?
– For my encore, ladies and gentlemen, I will play
• Mild Interjections (expressions of less than
strong emotion):
– Yes, I did get a pedicure last weekend.
– No, you may not look at my feet.
– Dear me, how you have sacrificed your ethereal
beauty for a life of greed and smut.
Use a Comma to Set Off…
• Direct Quotations.
– Generally, use one or more commas to separate a
direct quotation from preceding or following words:
– “I love you,” she whispered.
– “And I,” he replied, “love you.”
• Examples Introduced by Such as, Especially,
Particularly; Expressions of Contrast.
– Ira enjoys all crafts, especially wood carving.
– Dresden was in East Germany, not West Germany.
Use a Comma Also
• In Place of Omitted or Understood Words:
– Nina attended Harvard; Lova, Princeton.
• Before a Confirmatory (Tag) Question:
– It’s a warm day, isn’t it?
• To Group Words to Prevent Misreading:
– Inside, the dog was growling.
– [not Inside the dog…]
– After eating, the child became sleepy.
– [Not After eating the child…]
Use a Comma Also
• In Letters:
– After the greeting in a friendly letter:
• Dear Mabel,
NOTE: Use a colon for business letters:
Dear Mrs. Butterworth:
– After the complimentary closing in all letters:
• Very truly yours,
• In Dates and Addresses:
– In a month-day-year date, place the year within
commas, as if it were parenthetical. Do the same with
the state or country in an address:
• On October 18, 1979, I was born in Montgomery,
Alabama, at Baptist Hospital.
Use a Comma to Set Off…
• Parenthetical Expressions.
– These are words or word groups that
interrupt the main flow of thought in a
sentence, are logically close to the rest of
the sentence, and are not essential to the
meaning of the sentence.
– General parenthetical expressions:
• She was, in my opinion, outstanding.
• It is unfortunate, to be sure. (Note the vast
difference between that and It is unfortunate to
be sure.)
Parenthetical Expressions
– Other expressions: on the other hand, moreover,as a
matter of fact, to tell the truth, of course, incidentally,
namely, in the first place, *therefore, *thus,
*consequently, *however, *nevertheless.
NOTE: Not all these expressions are always set off. You
may choose not to set off perhaps, likewise, at least,
indeed, therefore, thus, and certain others in
sentences where you feel they do not interrupt your
thought flow.
*These may also be used as conjunctive adverbs :
We are all reading WH; however, we do not all
understand it.
Adjective Clauses
(A type of relative clause)
• a subordinate clause that modifies a noun or a
• An adjective clause is usually introduced by a relative
pronoun, but can also begin with when or where, or the
relative adjective whose.
– The movie that I watched last night was Young
– That is the house where I want to live.
– Students long for the time when school is out again.
– Do you know the boy whose locker jammed?
*** An Adjective clause usually follows the word it
Adjective Clauses
(A type of relative clause)
• Remember that an adjective clause begins with a relative
• Relative pronouns do three things:
– refer to a preceding noun or pronoun.
– connect their clauses to the rest of the sentence
– perform a function within their own clauses by serving as
the subject, object, etc., of the subordinate clause
• **NB** At times, the relative pronoun is dropped at the
beginning of an adjective clause:
– Wuthering Heights is a book every student should read.
– Mrs. Norman’s announcements about the crosswalk
were something every student enjoyed hearing.
What is omitted but understood?
Adjective Clauses
• Nonrestrictive / nonessential Clauses (usually
beginning with which or a form of who):
– Perry Hill Road, which I take to get to work, will be
repaved in the near future.
– Mrs. Garrison, who teaches senior English, has a
sarcastic sense of humor.
• A restrictive clause is essential and cannot be
removed as it restricts the meaning of the noun
it modifies – DO NOT USE A COMMA:
– The street that I take to get to work will be repaved.
– The woman who teaches senior English has a
sarcastic sense of humor.
Adjective Clauses
• There is an easy test to distinguish
restrictive from nonrestrictive clauses. A
restrictive clause will sound right if you
substitute that for who or which; a
nonrestrictive clause will not:
– The woman that teaches senior English has
a sarcastic sense of humor. – Test works,
restrictive, omit commas
– Mrs. Garrison that teaches senior English
has a sarcastic sense of humor. – Wrong,
nonrestrictive, needs commas (and who)
Adjective Clauses: Who and Whom
• *Relative pronouns perform a function
within their own clauses by serving as
the subject, object, etc., of the
subordinate clause.
• This is ESSENTIAL to understanding
when to use who vs. whom to begin
an adjective clause.
Adjective Clauses: Who and Whom
• The principal appointed James, who is a reliable student.
– What is the function of who inside the adj. clause?
• Mr. Baker is the teacher whom Andie chose as her
favorite teacher.
– What is the function of whom inside the adj. clause?
• The teachers without supplies are the ones for whom the
LAMPLighters are trying to raise money.
– What is the function of whom inside the adj. clause?
• Can we generalize then about the placement of who and
• Who before a verb, used as a subject in the clause
• Whom after a preposition or before a subject and verb in
the clause, most often used as a DO or OP
Adjective Clauses: Who and Whom
• RULE: The case of the pronoun beginning a (noun or
adjective) subordinate clause is determined by its use in the
clause that it begins. The case is NOT affected by ANY word
OUTSIDE the clause.
• Step 1: Find the subordinate clause.
• Step 2: Determine how the pronoun is used in the clause–
subject, predicate nominative, object of verb, or object of
preposition—and decide its case according to the rules. (S,
PN are Nominative; DO, OP are Objective)
• Step 3: Select the correct form of the pronoun—who for
nominative, whom for objective.
• DO NOT BE MISLED by other intervening clauses, such as I
think, it seems, or we are convinced:
– She is the one who I think scored the goal.
– She is the player whom it is certain we must stop.
Adjective Clauses: Restrictive and
• Remember that adjective clauses are either restrictive
(restricting the meaning of the noun being modified, and
therefore essential) or nonrestrictive (not essential to
understanding the meaning of the noun or sentence).
• Restrictive clauses NEED NO COMMAS:
– The teacher whom I saw at a Biscuits game was Mr. Ellis.
– The car that nearly ran me off the road was a dilapidated
land barge.
• Nonrestrictive clauses NEED COMMAS:
– Mr. Gatling, who is a Beatle fanatic, went to the Paul
McCartney concert a few weeks ago.
– The new LAMP schedule, which starts ten minutes earlier
and ends fifteen minutes earlier, forgot to take into account
the extra two minutes needed by the second lunch wave to
exit the lunchroom.
Adjective Clauses: Practice
DIRECTIONS: First, decide what relative pronoun should
start the adj. clause. Then decide if the sentence needs
commas and where you would put them.
1. In Hamlet the two characters (who, whom) I remember
best are Hamlet and Ophelia.
2. If I had known (who, whom) she was I would have been
more cordial.
3. The freshman class officers will be (whoever, whomever)
the ninth graders elect.
4. Since I did not know (who, whom) the caller wanted I
insisted he check his number again.
5. Everybody (who, whom) received an invitation sent a
Adjective Clauses: Practice
6. She was one of those (who, whom) I suppose the
politicians could not influence.
7. The student (who, whom) I think made the winning goal
was too excited to sleep.
8. No one has figured out to (who, whom) the teacher was
9. The church is looking for someone (who, whom) it can
assign to lead the youth group.
10.The poets (who, whom) the reading public takes to its
heart are not always great poets.
11.Everyone in the courtroom wondered (who, whom) the
mysterious witness would be.
12.You may tell anyone (who, whom) you think is interested
that our work has just begun.
Adjective Clauses: Practice
Directions: Find the adjective clauses in the sentences
below. Decide if they are essential or nonessential. If it
is nonessential, explain where the comma(s) should
1. The LAMP Ambassadors who made us feel at home in
our new school helped us through the first confusing
days of classes.
2. My car which is a CR-V has been quite useful in
hauling all those graded papers home.
3. The car which Mrs. Norman drives is always parked
out front.
4. She is wearing the t-shirt she bought to commemorate
LAMP’s 25th anniversary.
5. Teenagers who are nervous do not make good drivers.
Adjective Clauses: Practice
The city of Montgomery which is under enormous financial pressure
will stop recycling pickup in October.
Recycling which is easy to do is usually the first ecologically friendly
action people take.
The control button that is on my home laptop keeps popping off.
The book I read every few years gives a fictionalized account of the
real-life story of the daughter of a silk merchant in Marseille who
becomes betrothed to a poor young soldier named Napoleon.
10. Her older sister whom she wants to see married ends up marrying
Joseph Bonaparte and becoming Queen of Spain.
11. Désirée herself eventually becomes Queen Desideria of Sweden
through her marriage to Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte a marshal of
France who is elected as heir apparent by the Swedish parliament.
12. Little Désirée Clary whose father was an ardent republican would help
her husband to found the House of Bernadotte which still reigns in
Sweden to this day.
Adverb Clauses
• An introductory adverb clause:
– If you pay full tuition now, you may register by mail.
• NOTE: You do not usually need a comma when the adverb
clause follows the main clause:
– You may register by mail if you pay full tuition now.
• **However, when a sentence-final adverb clause begins
with since or as (meaning because—but not because itself)
or shows contrast, it should be set off with a comma:
– I had to buy lunch at school today, since I left my lunchbox at home.
– Julia went to bed early last night, as she felt like she was coming
down with something.
– Sally opened the jar and grabbed a big chocolate chip cookie for a
snack, though her mother had told her to get some carrots out of
the fridge.
– BUT NOT: Julie finally went to sleep as her alarm was going off.
Adverb Clauses Tell…
• Time [when?]: when(ever), while, after, before,
since, as, as soon as, until
– I left before the meeting started.
• Place [where?]: where, wherever
– The pioneers went where the land was fertile.
• Manner [how?]: as, as if, as though
– That guy is acting as if he is drunk.
• Cause [why?]: because, since
– I left the meeting because I was angry.
• Purpose [why?]: (so) that, in order that
– She came so that she might help.
Adverb Clauses Tell…
• Concession [under what condition?]: although,
though, even though
– Although they were tired, they came to help.
• Condition [under what condition?]: if, unless,
whether, provided (that)
– You can still go to both if you leave the meeting early.
• Result [that what resulted?]: that
– He ran so fast that he was exhausted.
• Comparison [to what degree?]: as, than
– She is taller than I [am].
Adverb Clauses as Fragments
• One of the most common types of fragment is
the subordinate clause. When standing alone,
the subordinate clause does not express a
complete thought. It most often occurs as
separated from the main clause with which it
should go.
• I was happy. Because finals were over.
• Do not separate a phrase or subordinate clause
from the sentence of which it is a part!
DO NOT Use a Comma
• To separate a subject from its verb or a
verb from its complement (DO, IO, OC,
– On our trip we saw, countless lakes and hills.
• To join two independent clauses in place
of a coordinate conjunction or semicolon.
(Comma splice)
Summary of Comma Rules: Use a
comma to set off…
1. Independent Clauses with coordinate conj.
2. Introductory Elements
a. Intro adverb clauses
b. Long prep phrase (7 words+) or series
c. Intro verbal phrases not used as subjects
3. Items in a Series
4. Coordinate Adjectives
5. Parenthetical Expressions
a. General parenthetical expressions
b. Nonrestrictive adjective clauses
c. Nonrestrictive phrases (verbals and appositives)
Summary of Comma Rules: Use a
comma to set off…
Absolute Phrases (Nominative Absolute)
Nouns of Direct Address
Mild Interjections (including yes and no)
Direct Quotations (from preceding or
following words)
10.Examples Introduced by Such as,
Especially, Particularly, and Expressions
of Contrast
Summary of Comma Rules: Use a
Comma Also…
11.In Place of Omitted or Understood Words
12.Before a Confirmatory Question (TAG!)
13.In Letters
14.In Dates and Addresses
15.To Group Words to Prevent Misreading
Summary of Comma Rules:
NEVER Use a Comma…
1. To separate Subject and Verb or Verb
and Complement
2. To Join Two Independent Clauses in
Place of a Coordinate
Conjunction/Comma combo or a
The Semicolon
• The semicolon signals a greater break in
thought than the comma but a lesser
break than the period. It is, however,
closer to a period than to a comma in most
of its uses and is often interchangeable
with the period. The semicolon often gives
your writing a formal tone, as it is not used
as often today as it was 100 years ago.
Use a Semicolon (;)…
1. Between Independent Clauses Not
Joined by a Coordinate Conjunction
*It is particularly effective for showing
balance or contrast between two clauses:
– The lakes abound with fish; the woods teem
with game.
– People are usually willing to give advice;
they are much less inclined to take it.
Use a Semicolon (;)…
2. Between Independent Clauses Joined by a Conjunctive
Adverb (those transitions):
– The Capri shows movies at 7:30 p.m. Sunday through
Thursday; however, on weekends they generally show
movies at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.
– Keep whisking the egg yolks as you slowly add oil;
otherwise, the mayonnaise will separate.
*Some conjunctive adverbs may drift into the second
clause, but the semicolon remains between the clauses:
– On weekdays we close at eleven; on weekends, however,
we stay open until one.
Use a Semicolon (;)…
3. Between Independent Clauses Joined by a
Coordinate Conjunction When There Are
Commas Within Both Clauses:
– Today people can buy what they need from
department stores, supermarkets, and discount
stores; but in Colonial days, when such
conveniences did not exist, people depended on
general stores and peddlers.
[The semicolon marks the break between the
independent clauses more clearly than a comma
Use a Semicolon (;)…
4. Between Items in a Series When There
are Commas Within the Items:
– At the LAMP High School Hall of Fame
Banquet, I sat with the former editor of the
North Tower Literary Magazine, Diarra
Lamar; the girl who played Anne Frank in the
school play, Nina Sawyer; and a Polish
student, Emilia Lusnia, who married a friend
of mine.
The Colon
Use a Colon to Introduce…
1. A List that Follows a Grammatically Complete
Statement (usually in apposition to some word in the
(Often the following or as follows precedes the colon)
– We hired Jane for one reason: her experience.
– Our backfield consists of four rookies: Smith, Johnson,
Jackson, and Wilson.
– To the béchamel sauce add one or more of the following:
nutmeg, thyme, basil, parsley, or rosemary.
**Do not use a colon if an incomplete statement precedes
the list (verb without complement, preposition without
object, etc.):
 Our backfield consists of Smith, Johnson, Jackson, and
 Her choices were to say nothing, to file a complaint, or to
The Colon
Use a Colon to Introduce…
2. A Long Quotation (one or more paragraphs):
– In The Art of the Novel Henry James wrote:
“The house of fiction[…]” (continues)
3. A Formal Quotation or Question:
– Roosevelt declared: ”The only thing we have to fear is fear
– The question is: What can we do? (or)
– The question is: what can we do?
4. A Second Independent Clause That Explains the First
– The daughter’s motive is clear: she wants the inheritance.
The Colon
Use a Colon to Introduce…
5. The Body of a Business Letter (after the greeting):
– Dear Sir or Madam:
– Dear Ms. Austen:
6. The Details following an Announcement:
– For sale: mountain cabin
7. A Formal Resolution, After the Word Resolved
– Resolved: That this body does hereby refer the matter to
the United Nations Security Council.
8. The Words of a Speaker in a Play (after the name):
– MACBETH: She should have died hereafter.
The Colon
Use a Colon to Separate…
1. Parts of a Title, Reference, or Numeral
Title: Principles of Mathematics: An Introduction
Reference: Luke 3: 4-13
Numeral: 7:15 a.m.
2. The Place of Publication from the Publisher,
and the Volume Number from the Pages in
Seagrave, Sterling. The Marcos Dynasty. New York:
Harper, 1988.
Jarchow, Elaine. “In Search of Consistency in
Composition Scoring.” English Record 23.4 (1982):
• To Form the Possessive Case of Nouns.
A noun is possessive if it can also be
expressed as the last word in an of
phrase: the captain’s chair = the chair of
the captain.
Form the possessives of these with an apostrophe +
• Almost all singular nouns:
a woman’s coat
Ms. Davis’s boat
A person’s legal right
The class’s performance
Mr. Smith’s truck
A bird’s nest
A fox’s bushy tail
Lois’s dingy old car
• Plural nouns that do not end in s
– The women’s coats
– The people’s legal rights
– The mice’s nest
Form the possessives of these with an apostrophe alone:
• Plural nouns ending in s:
The Smiths’ car
Two girls’ coats
The Davises’ boat
The birds’ nests
The boys’ gymnasium The foxes’ bushy tails
The classes’ performance
• A few singular nouns that would sound awkward with
another s:
– Ulysses’ travels
Sophocles’ irony
• CAUTION: Do not confuse the ordinary plural of nouns
with the possessive!
– Plural: I know the Smiths.
– Possessive plural: The Smiths’ cat died.
Note these fine points of
• Joint vs. individual possession: If two or
more nouns possess something jointly,
only the last noun gets an apostrophe:
– Burglars ransacked Marge and Homer’s
• If each noun possesses a separate thing,
each noun gets an apostrophe:
– Burglars ransacked both Lisa’s and Bart’s
Note these fine points of
• In hyphenated words and the names of
organizations, add the apostrophe to the last word
His father-in-law’s remarriage has upset his wife.
The commander-in-chief’s order
Proctor and Gamble’s products
The Food and Agriculture Organization’s work
• Though possessive personal, interrogative, and
relative pronouns and adjectives do not take
apostrophes (yours, hers, whose, etc.), possessive
indefinite pronouns DO: anybody’s, someone’s,
each other’s, someone else’s, everybody else’s,
Note these fine points of
• Words expressing time or amount usually form
their possessive just as other nouns do:
A dollar’s worth of candy
Five cents’ worth
A moment’s rest
Three days’ rest*
A week’s pay
Two weeks’ pay
*Also correct: a three-day rest
• To show contractions and other omissions
of letters or numerals.
– Don’t [do not]
– Who’s [who is]
– Class of ’98 [1998]
– Goin’ [going]
– They’re [they are]
– It’s [it is]
• For clarity, to form the plurals of letters,
numbers, symbols, and words referred to
as such.
– Try not to use so many and’s.
– Last term she earned straight A’s.
– His 3’s and 5’s look too much alike.
– Use +’s and –’s on the test.
– Lola’s career waned during the 1980’s [or
DO NOT Use an Apostrophe…
• With Possessive Personal Pronouns (His, Hers,
Its, Ours, Yours, Theirs) or with Whose.
• To Form the Possessive of Inanimate Objects
(unless the phrase using of sounds awkward):
Poor: the house’s door
Better: the door of the house
BUT Poor: the wait of an hour
Better: an hour’s wait
• To Form the Plurals of Proper Nouns.
– Merry Christmas from the Wilsons.
The Period – Use a period…
• After every sentence except a direct
question or an exclamation. (Declarative
and imperative sentences, as well as
indirect questions)
• The index dropped six points.
• Sell your stocks now.
• I asked how I should sell them.
The Period – Use a period…
After an abbreviation or initial.
Mr., U.S., Dr., Calif., M.D., Rev., Ib.
NOTE: Ms. takes a period. Miss does not.
DO NOT use a period with the following:
– Well-known initials of many organizations: IBM, FBI, CBS,
– Radio and television stations: WSFA, WHHY
– Money in even-dollar denominations: $40 (but $40.99)
– Contractions: ass’n, sec’y
– Ordinal numbers: 5th, 2nd, Henry VIII
– Nicknames: Rob, Pat, Sid, Pam
– Common shortened terms: memo, math, exam, lab, gym,
TV (These are colloquial; use the full words in formal
The Period – Use a period…
• After a number or letter in a formal outline:
I. Sports taught this semester
A. Swimming
B. Softball
NOTE: Do not use a period if…
the number or letter is within parentheses: (1) (a)
the number is part of a title: chapter 4, Henry V
The Period – Use a period…
• In a group of three (…) to show
– Ellipsis (the intentional omission of words) in a quoted
passage. Retain necessary punctuation preceding the
“But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate…this ground.
The brave men, living and dead,…have consecrated
it.…” – Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address”
– Pause, hesitation, and the like in dialogue and
interrupted narrative (do not overuse!):
“Perhaps…certain people have been overlooked
for…personal reasons.”
The Dash
• The dash is a dramatic mark, signaling an
abrupt break in the flow of a sentence. Do
not use it for an ordinary pause or stop, in
place of a comma, period, or semicolon.
On a computer, make a dash by using
two strokes of the hyphen key, with no
spaces before, between, or after--like this.
Use a Dash…
A. To Show a Sudden Break in Thought:
I’ll give—let’s see, what can I give?
The hesitant student began, “May I ask—?”
He might—and according to plans, should—have reinforced the
Second Division.
The title—if, indeed, the poem had a title—has escaped me.
B. To Set Off a Parenthetical Element that is long, that
sharply interrupts the sentence, or that otherwise would
be hard to distinguish. Often the dash has the meaning of
namely, in other words, or that is before an explanation:
We traveled by foot, in horse-drawn wagons, and
occasionally—if we had some spare cash, if the farmers felt
sorry for us, or if we could render some service in
exchange—atop a motorized tractor.
Use a Dash…
C. To Emphasize an Appositive.
He had only one interest—food.
[or … interest: food.]
Drill, inspections, calisthenics—all are part of army life.
The basic skills—reading, writing, and mathematics—
are stressed here.
D. To Precede the Author’s Name After a Direct
“Short words are best and the old words when short
are best of all.” —Winston Churchill
Use a Hyphen…
A. To Join Certain Compound Words (consult a dictionary
to ascertain which): mother-in-law, go-getter, jack-o’lantern
B. To Join the Two Parts of a Compound Adjective Before
the Noun It Modifies.
Route 303 is a well-paved road.
She tried door-to-door selling.
dark-colored glasses
NOTE: Do not hyphenate such a modifier when it follows a
noun as a subject complement: Route 303 is well
Also do not use a hyphen between an –ly adverb and an
adjective: freshly baked bread.
Use a Hyphen…
C. When Writing Out Two-Word Numbers from 21
to 99 and Two-Word Fractions:
five twenty-fourths
two hundred ten two hundred twenty-two
Also hyphenate a compound adjective containing a
ten-year-old boy forty-hour week
ten-dollar bill
two- and three-room apartments
Use a Hyphen…
To Avoid Ambiguity.
Ambiguous: The advertisement was intended for old train
buffs. [old buffs of trains or buffs of old trains?]
Clear: The advertisement was intended for old-train buffs.
With the Prefixes ex- (when it means “former”), self-, all-,
and the Suffix -elect. Also with all prefixes before a proper
noun or proper adjective.
self-confidence all-conference
Pan-American anti-Russian
NOTE: The modern tendency is to join nearly all prefixes and suffixes to root
words without hyphens, except where ambiguity (recover, re-cover) or
awkwardness might result or where the root is capitalized (anti-American,
Europe-wide). Examples of modern usage are antiterrorist,
noninterventionist, semiliterate (but semi-independent to avoid an
awkward double i), bimonthly, triweekly, and citywide.
Use a Hyphen
F. To Divide a word that will not fit at the end of a line.
Always put the hyphen at the end of the first line, not
the beginning of the second!
Words should be divided between syllables. One-syllable
words should never be divided.
– A word having double consonants should be divided
between those consonants (unless ending in –ing)
– Do not divide a word so that a single letter stands alone.
Try to avoid dividing a word so that only two letters are
carried over to the next line.
– Words having prefixes and suffixes should usually be
divided between the prefix and the root of the word or
between the root of the word and the suffix.
Use a Hyphen…
G. To Indicate Words that are spelled out.
“She wants a d-o-l-l,” her mother said to
her grandmother.
Use Parentheses (always in
A. To Set Off Incidental Information or
– Senator Shelby (R., Alabama) is the ranking
member of the Banking, Housing, and
Urban Affairs Committee.
NOTE: Do not overuse parentheses. Use
commas to set off ordinary parenthetical
(interrupting) expressions. Do not use an
opening capital letter or closing period with a
sentence in parentheses within a larger
Use Parentheses (always in
B. To Enclose
Letters or figures in enumeration:
She is authorized to (1) sign checks, (2) pay bills, and (3)
make purchases.
References and directions:
The map (see page 70) shows the terrain of the area.
A question mark indicating uncertainty:
Julius Caesar was born in the year 100 B.C.(?) in Rome.
C. For Accuracy, in Legal Documents and
Business Letters:
I enclose fifty dollars ($50).
Use Parentheses (always in
D. With Other Punctuation Marks as Follows:
1. The comma, semicolon, and period follow the closing
parenthesis when the parentheses set off material in a
If we go (we are still not sure), you two may go.
He deceived us (weren’t we foolish?); he was clever.
I believed her (though I can’t imagine why).
2. The question mark and the exclamation point go inside
the parentheses if the mark belongs to the parenthetical
element; otherwise, they go outside.
One of the translators was Aquila (died A.D. 138?).
Have you read the translation of Tyndale (died 1536)?
Snerd asked Peter’s fiancée for a date (what gall!).
DO NOT Use Parentheses…
A. To Indicate Deletions. Instead draw a line
through the deleted words:
Wrong: (Never) Seldom have I seen such gall!
Right: Never Seldom have I seen such gall!
B. To Enclose Editorial Comment. Use
brackets for this purpose, as explained in
the next section. 
Use Brackets…
A. To Enclose Your Editorial or Explanatory
Remarks Within a Direct Quotation.
Churchill said in 1940, “If we can stand up to him [Hitler],
all Europe may be free….”
B. With Sic to Mark the Original Writer’s Error in
Material You Are Quoting. (Sic is Latin for “Thus
it is.” Its use clarifies that the error was made
not by you but by the person you are quoting.)
The note ended, “Respectively [sic] yours, Martha.”
C. To Enclose Stage Directions.
MIRANDA [sipping her coffee]: Are you glad to see me?
Italics (Underlining)
• Italics is slanted type. In your handwriting,
indicate italics by underlining: Moby Dick
or Moby Dick
Use Italics to Designate…
Titles of Separate Publications
Books: Gone with the Wind is one of my favorite novels.
Magazines and Newspapers: Mr. Stanley reads the New Yorker and the
New York Times.
*NOTE: The word the is not capitalized or italicized in a newspaper or
magazine title.
Bulletins and Pamphlets: Common Sense
Plays, films, TV and Radio Programs, and musical productions:
Lincoln was shot during a performance of Our American Cousin
Have you ever watched The Color Purple?
I love Masterpiece Theater and MI-5 on PBS.
We enjoyed The Phantom of the Opera immensely!
Poems long enough to be published separately:
Tennyson’s In Memoriam
NOTE: DO NOT italicize/underline your own titles for essays.
Use Italics to Designate…
B. Names of Ships, Aircraft, and Spacecraft:
– Captain Nemo commanded the Nautilus.
– The Challenger blew up during take-off when I was
only 6 years old.
– Elvis Presley had his own plane, the Lisa Marie.
C. Titles of Paintings and Sculptures
– The Blue Boy by Gainsborough
– I saw The Thinker by Rodin at his house in Paris.
– At what do you think the Mona Lisa is smiling?
Use Italics to Designate…
D. Foreign Words Not Yet Anglicized:
– It was to late to stop the procedure; it was a fait
NOTE: Consult your dictionary if uncertain.
DO NOT underline common abbreviations: A.M., P.M.,
A.D., vs., i.e., e.g., etc.
E. Words, Letters, Figures, or Symbols Referred
to as such:
– The t in often is silent.
– Avoid using & for and in formal writing.
– Claude’s 4’s and 7’s are indistinct.
Use Double (regular) Quotation
Marks [“ ”]to Enclose…
A. Direct Quotations (a speaker’s exact words). Note
that commas set off each quotation: MacArthur
vowed, “I shall return,” as he left the islands.
NOTE: Do not use quotation marks with indirect
quotations: MacArthur vowed that he would return.
Observe these fine points of quotation-mark use:
1) With an interrupted quotation, use them only around
the quoted words.
2) With an uninterrupted quotation of several sentences,
use them only before the first sentence and after the
3) With a short quotation that is not a complete
sentence, use no commas: Barrie describes life as “a
long lesson in humility.”
More fine points of quotation-mark
4) When quoting dialogue, start a new paragraph with
each change of speaker:
“He’s dead,” Holmes announced.
“Are you sure?” the young lady asked.
5) Do not use quotation marks around sets of quoted
lines of poetry. Treat them as an indented block
6) However, you may use a very short poetic
quotation in your text, using quotation marks (with a
slash marking line breaks):
Tennyson shows us an aged Ulysses, “an idle
king,/By this still hearth, among these barren
Use Double (regular) Quotation
Marks to Enclose…
B. Titles of Short Written Works: Poems, Articles,
Essays, Short Stories, Chapters, Songs, Oneact Plays.
“Song of the Open Road” is a poem in Walt Whitman’s
Leaves of Grass.
Chapter 1 of The Guns of August is titled “A Funeral.”
A Christmas song that really gets on my nerves is “Mele
Kalikimaka” by Bing Crosby.
C. Definitions of Words
The original meaning of geek was “a performer at a
carnival or circus whose show consists of bizarre or
grotesque acts, such as biting the head off a live
Use Double (regular) Quotation
Marks to Enclose…
D. Slang Words, Technical Terms, and other
expressions that are unusual in standard
– What “bling” did she have on at the Emmy
– Those units of speech are referred to by
linguists as “phonemes.”
– Because his first name was Fiorello, Mayor
LaGuardia was known as the “little flower.”
Use Single Quotation Marks [‘’]…
• To enclose a Quotation Within a Quotation.
Think of this construction as a box within a box.
Ordinary double quotation marks [“ ”] provide
the wrapping around the outer box; single
quotation marks [‘’] provide the wrapping around
the inner box. Be sure to place end punctuation
within the write box!
– She asked the teacher, “Did Marie Antoinette really
say, ‘Let them eat cake’?”
Do Not Use Quotation Marks…
A. To Enclose the Title Introducing a
Composition or Research Paper (unless
the title is a quotation)
B. To Show that a Word is Intended
Ironically or Humorously. Your irony or
humor will be more effective if not so
blatantly pointed out:
Use Other Marks of Punctuation
with Quotation Marks as follows:
A. Periods and Commas: Always put these marks
INSIDE closing quotation marks.
“I see it,” whispered Watson. “It’s the speckled band.”
B. Colons and Semicolons: Always put these
marks OUTSIDE closing quotation marks.
Cody barked, “I have nothing to say”; then he left.
Three students elected to recite “The Jabberwocky”:
James, George, and Peter.
Use Other Marks of Punctuation
with Quotation Marks as follows:
C. Question Marks, Exclamation Points, and
Dashes: Place these marks inside the
quotation marks when they belong to the
quotation, but outside otherwise.
Sally Sue Snerd asked, “Who is my opponent?”
Did Sally Sue Snerd say, “I fear no opponent”?
Did Sally Sue Snerd ask, “Who is my opponent”?
“I don’t believe it!” she exclaimed.
How furious he was when she muttered, “I don’t know”!
“How could you—” Colin began, but faltered.
“Here”—Holmes threw open the door—“is our culprit!”