​​​By Danelle Woodman (Writing Coach), Aug. 2022​​​​​​​​

Laying the Foundation

​Commas allow for your writing to communicate your meaning effectively to your audience as well as show your experience as a writer. In my undergrad, my English professors challenged us to not only become experienced writers but also become proficient in multiple genres of writing, whether that be writing for the sciences, writing for a poetry magazine, or writing a memoir for a book. I've been working on mastering different genres, and I still have a lot to learn, but once I understood commas, my writing drastically changed.


In the world of education, we like to say practice makes permanent, so it's important to learn the mechanics of writing in the English language, including comma usage. If you truly want to become an efficient and self-sustaining writer in academia, use your resources to aid in your own learning (i.e., the Center for Writing and Academic Success) and prioritize practicing. Writing machines such as Grammarly or Microsoft Word's grammar checks, although helpful in highlighting possible errors, will only take you so far. To become a writing master, it takes time as well as intentional effort to dig through your brain's English-language universe to know what's what.


This universe is the hub of your language usage, which you have had since you acquired the language. All of the rules of English, including its different dialects, are mapped in your brain, but it can be hard to access it if we are not fully aware of all its rules. To become a master writer in various genres, it takes time to access these nuggets of knowledge. That's why we, at the Center, are here to help!


As daunting as writing may seem, it is incredibly amazing to witness the power of writing. When it is done well, your message could change a generation! Or, more specifically, help you get the good grade you deserve. I'm here to help you achieve these goals–and commas will help!


For this article, the  goal is to help you, the reader, understand the significance and purpose for commas. Here's what we're going to cover:​

  1. Knowing what commas are
  2. Understanding why commas are important
  3. Learning how to check if you're using commas correctly
  4. Learning the main types of comma usage


What are Commas?

Commas are the lovely punctuation marks that indicate a meaningful pause and a division of the sentence. In the English-language universe, there are rules regarding how to use commas.


The long-time assumption with commas is that we use it when there is a pause needed. However, this is not entirely true. Yes, commas do communicate a slight pause, but this pause helps us indicate emphasis AND meaning.​

​Why are Commas Important?

Commas are used to communicate emphasis and meaning, not just random pauses. If we inserted commas willy-nilly, we'd have a messy sentence-style alphabet soup. We want to make sure our audience gets what we want them to understand. If we're thinking, “I think a comma goes here," or “I'm pretty sure I don't need a comma," we can distort what we're trying to communicate.

Let's eat grandma! → Command for the family to EAT grandma FOR dinner.


Let's eat, Grandma!Command for grandma to JOIN the family AT dinner.

Let's take the example above, for instance. When speaking verbally, we do not need to say that there is a comma in this sentence because our brains automatically know that the meaning is to tell grandma to come eat dinner. In writing, however, the comma provides clarification so that the true meaning is not lost. The writer is telling grandma it is time to eat dinner WITH the family, NOT that the family should eat grandma FOR dinner. In academic writing, comma usage promotes clarity for the reader. ​

Commas also help with more objective and practical means in writing. For example:

  1. ​Items in a list of three or more There are apples, oranges, and peaches in the fridge.
  2. Stacking adjectives in a list of two or more Your strong, fast pace will help your running time in the marathon.
  3. Dates Monday, January 1, 2022.
  4. Commands to people Mom, will you write me a letter?
  5. Asking questions within a sentence There will be rain, but I wonder, will it be a thunderstorm?

How to Check Your Commas

As you begin the revision process for your writing, you will learn new methods that work for you. One simple, baseline method that I use  is to identify the clauses. It can be complicated at first, but over time you will be able to do this easily and quickly!​​


Types of Clauses

​​There are two types of clauses that you will need to identify.

Independent Clause

A sentence with one subject​ and one predicate (i.e., verb). It can stand alone!

D​anelle loves mac 'n cheese.


Dependent (or Subordinate) Clause

A sentence with one subject and one predicate (i.e., verb) that CANNOT stand on its own. These clauses are not complete thoughts. You can spot these types of clauses if there is a conjunction or a preposition.

Although Danelle loves mac 'n cheese.

​If Danelle loves mac 'n cheese.

In order to make a dependent clause complete, you can add an independent clause at either end. Make sure the nouns match up accordingly for clarity.

Although Danelle loves mac 'n cheese, she has a dairy allergy.

​​Danelle must enjoy dairy if she loves ma​​c 'n cheese.

Now​​ you​​ try

​Identify the types of clauses below and determine if they are complete OR incomplete thoughts. How do you know?

  1. I want some cereal.
  2. Because you were late.
  3. Before you go to bed.
  4. Marie likes cats.
  5. Joseph is a good soccer player.
  6. When it is raining.​​

Challenge Yourself

​Go through this section and identify the clauses. Are there any incomplete sentences?

​One element of community involvement that I found as an important attribute to the success of a peace initiative is accountability. I have explored the significance of accountability in past research and have found that accountability can go beyond consequence systems. Instead, accountability establishes a sense of normalcy to a critical examination of an organizational practice that is crucial to the success of the program's goals (Akbulut Gok, 2020). In light of my experience in the Special Diabetes Program, it is important to recognize the different ways accountability can impact the initiatives set forth by the organization. In hindsight, I do believe this perspective would have improved organizational functions and staff relationships. Overall, the system of accountability that is put in place should incorporate inclusive strategies to ensure all processes are formed and/or agreed upon by stakeholders (Joseph, 2009). These insights are vague and require clear and specific standards for practice within the organization. More research will be required by the organization or program to determine its unique framework for accountability to fit the needs of its stakeholders.


Let's Th​​ink About T​his

What did you notice in your identification process? Was it getting easier as you went along? How do you feel about commas now? If you're still struggling, check out the webpage "Identifying Dependent and Independent Clauses" by Dalton State (2021).

Danelle's "Switch-a-roo" Method

One trick that I have learned​​​ is ​what I like to call the “switch-a-roo" method. This is how it works:

​​​1.   When you're reading over or revising your written work, you might come across a sentence that your English-brain knows isn't quite right. Your professor or writing coach says, “This looks a little funky." But why? 

The finding explained in Doe (2020) further emphasizes the need for more inclusive and equitable legislative intervention for minority populations. Although many critics say otherwise.

2.   ​Let's find the clauses in this funky section to see how we can rework it. In green, you can find one independent clause and in orange you can find a dependent clause. Why is the one in orange dependent? The trick is the conjunction “although." This word makes the clause not able to stand on its own.

​The finding explained in Doe (2022) further emphasizes the need for more inclusive and equitable legislative intervention for minority populations. Although many critics say otherwise.

​3.    ​Le​t's do a little “switch-a-roo." Put the dependent clause before the independent to make a beautiful complex sentence. This is ONE way to solve the funkiness.

The finding explained in Doe (2022) further emphasizes the need for more inclusive and equitable legislative intervention for minority populations. Although many critics say otherwise.
Although many critics say otherwise, the finding explained in Doe (2020) further emphasizes the need for more inclusive and equitable legislative intervention for minority populations.


  • Commas should be used according to the rules of our English-language universe. Do not use them just because you think there should be a “pause." They should also communicate meaning.​
  • Practice makes permanent, not perfect. The more you practice the easier it will be to tap into your brain's knowledge of the English-language universe.
  • When in doubt, identify your conjunctions and clauses if you need help placing your commas. There are patterns and systems already in place to insert commas in the correct place!
  • Remember that the goal is not to be a perfect writer. Your goal is to be an effective communicator. Commas can help you get there.​

​​Additional Resources​​

To learn more about different types of commas usage, take a look at the webpage "Mini-Lesson: Comma Usage​" by Lumen (n.d.).