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Commas: Three Simple Rules

Comma Usage

To master comma rules, the first step is to figure out why a comma is being used. A comma is a punctuation mark that indicates a pause in the sentence. The most common three rules of commas involve introducers, interrupters, and add-ons.

Sometimes even an instructor’s marks on an essay don’t help. If you’ve used too many commas this time, on the next paper you might not use any--and vice versa. Many of those 60-odd comma rules boil down to this:

Commas are used most frequently for: introducers, interrupters, and add-ons.

Check your own writing for these three uses, and you’ll begin to master commas.


An introducer is a word, phrase, or clause that comes before an independent clause in a sentence (example introducers are in bold).

  • Well, I guess it’s time to start my English paper.
  • Because it’s 3 a.m. Monday, I should start my English paper.
  • Most of the time, I start my English paper the morning it’s due.


An interrupter is a word, phrase, or clause that comes in the middle of an independent clause in a sentence (example interrupters are in bold).

  • My composition instructor, knowing my habit of procrastinating, reminded me to start early on my essay.
  • Most student writers, even good ones who get decent grades on their essays, feel unsure about their ability.
  • Good writing, I believe, happens because the writer has something important to share with the reader.


An add-on is a word, phrase, or clause that comes at the end of an independent clause in a sentence (example add-ons are in bold).

  • Students whose essays are late blame lack of time, no matter what excuses they’ve used before.
  • It’s hard for me to write an introductory paragraph, which slows down my writing process.
  • I’ve never enjoyed writing, to tell you the truth.

Learn more about comma rules by reviewing this handout.

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