Writing in English is much more than just putting words together into sentences: students must learn to make sentences flow naturally to keep the attention of the reader. One easy way to master this skill is to learn basic punctuation rules. All English teachers will tell their students that punctuation can make a lot of difference in your writing!

Today we will look at the comma, which is one of the more basic punctuation marks. Do not let the comma fool you: although it is seen in most paragraphs, it is often misused or overused. Follow these simple comma rules and you will not fall victim to the basic mistakes that English learners AND native speakers make when writing.

Basic Punctuation Rules: the Comma

Rule One: Use a comma to list things.

  • Today I ate pizza, pasta, and a burger!
  • I need to buy milk, sugar, and bread when I go to the store later.
  • She asked for a new skirt, a necklace, and a sweater for her birthday.

Rule Two: Use a comma to make a compound sentence. You will often also use and, but, yet, so, or nor to join the sentences.

  • I kept the picture, and I later had it framed.
  • I had it framed, but I later realized that the picture was crooked.
  • I showed my husband, yet he did not seem to be bothered.
  • I was still bothered, so I took the picture down.
  • My husband didn’t notice, nor did he care.

Rule Three: Use a comma with introductory phrases like in addition, for example, in fact, however, meanwhile, therefore, and on the other hand.

  • I enjoy softball. In addition, I enjoy tennis.
  • In fact, I like tennis so much that I just bought private tennis lessons.
  • It is expensive though. For example, I pay about $50 per lesson.
  • However, I think that the lessons are worth it because my tennis game is improving.
  • Meanwhile, my friend has been taking Kung Fu lessons.
  • I would like to practice Kung Fu. On the other hand, I am afraid to fight people, so maybe I should stick with tennis!

Rule Four: Use a comma to introduce a quote.

  • She remarked, “I have always loved the rain.”
  • He looked at her sadly and said, “I can’t believe you are growing up.”
  • She looked out the window and replied, “We will always have each other.”

Rule Five: Use a comma with words that show an order or transition.

I had a busy day yesterday. First, I went to the gym. Next, I went to the bank. Then, I went grocery shopping. After that, I went home and cleaned my house. Then, I picked up my friend from the airport and we had lunch. Finally, I went home and did my homework. I was exhausted at night!


Good luck incorporating the comma into your writing. Make sure to ask your CISL teacher if you have any punctuation questions!