English Corner – The Utility of Commas

The Comma is an integral part of any English language sentence and while it may not come up all the time, it is likely to come up many of your sentences especially if they are longer than 10 sentences. The comma helps us to avoid run-on sentences or sentences that are too long-winded, which will distract the reader, and take away from the meaning of your sentence(s).

Commas should be used moderately to not to introduce many pauses within your sentences. You should be looking to use conjunctions in lieu of commas or with them depending upon the context. What you do not want to do is not use commas at all or use them too much. There is a key balance there that a writer in the English language must learn through trial and error as they develop their grammar proficiency.

What a comma (,) does in not just English but in other languages as well is to break down sentences into individual clauses with the comma acting a pause in the action to let the reader catch his or her breath. Commas are used in several scenarios but none as so important as forming a list of two or more items. In a list type of sentence, the comma is effective in separating the people, places, or things into an order from first to last to differentiate them.

If there are two or more items in the list, the comma will come before the conjunction (and, but, or) to finish out the sentence properly. This kind of arrangement forms the basis of the ‘oxford comma’, which is still being debated by English grammar scholars, but for which is popular with some English language students and is advocated for by certain teachers. The comma + conjunction combo is not only just for the oxford comma but for a wide variety of sentences.

If you had to summarize the main uses of commas in sentences, they function in terms of being placed between items for formal lists and they also establish separate yet interdependent clauses within a single sentence. The supplementary uses for commas involve being used between parts of speech such as adjectives, adverbs, and before quotations. Commas can also be used for dates related to days, months, and years in terms of how it is written.

Let’s break down the different uses of commas but listing a few examples for each type of popular usage:

Main Uses

1.      Building lists

·        Not only was Jenny captain of the Varsity soccer team but she was also President of the Chess club, and a member of the National Honor Society.

·        Felix had several things to get from the supermarket today: eggs, milk, bread, meat, and soft drinks for his daughter’s birthday party.

·        I think my grandmother, Jean, will be there along with my grandfather, Patrick, and my mother, Eunice.

2.      Separating the clauses

·        Jack wanted to go out with his friends to the movies, but he couldn’t do so because he had to finish his homework.

·        Lying to other people is not a good idea, and it often hurts other people’s feelings.

·        They were lost in the woods, hoping to get home by morning, but they were out of food and without a compass to guide them.

Supplementary Uses

1.      Adverbs and Adjectives

·        However, he was not guilty of the crime they thought he committed.

·        Moreover, they apologized to him and let him go free.

·        The dreary, sad day was encapsulated by the rainy weather.

·        President Franklin Roosevelt was fervent, unwavering in his belief in the American people’s ability to contribute to the war effort.

2.      Quotations and Dates

·        Mr. Johnson told his students, “You should always know how to use commas in sentences.”

·        LeBron was dismissive of the reporters stating, “I scored 50 points and did my best to help the team win the game.”

·        Abraham Lincoln was born on February 12th, 1809 in Hodgenville, Kentucky, United States.

·        Independence Day happened on July 4th, 1776 as the United States declared its independence from the British Empire.

As you can see from these examples, commas play a really important role in both English writing and in English grammar. There are several main uses and supplementary uses that the English language learner should be aware of. You must be able to practice each of these comma uses regardless of the purpose. In order to use commas properly, you must write your own sentences, make corrections if necessary, and get feedback from your teacher or your other classmates.

Each comma use is important whether its to separate sentence clauses, making a list of items, putting them with adjectives and adverbs, or using them for quotes or dates in those type of sentences. Without commas, you won’t have a complete sentence and you’ll run the risk of having a run-on sentence, which is what you want to avoid as much as possible in mastering English grammar and writing.

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English Corner – Introduction to Basic Parts of Speech

When you’re first starting out with the English language, it is necessary to have an overview of the basic parts of speech. Each of these basic parts of speech play a critical role in developing your understanding of English vocabulary and grammar. In previous blog posts, I have already covered some of these parts of speech in-depth but I thought that it would be prudent to give an overview of each one and how they relate to one another.

There are eight basic parts of speech in total: Noun, Pronoun, Verb, Adjective, Adverb, Prepositions, Conjunction, and Interjection. I would argue that the noun is the most commonly used part of speech while the interjection is the least commonly used one. Pronouns, Verbs, Adjectives, and Adverbs are going to come up a lot in English with Prepositions and Conjunctions being less common but still important to know about.

1.) Noun: A word that describes a person, place, or thing. You can also name those things that can be seen or touched as well as those things that cannot be seen or touched. Nouns are present in 99% of sentences in the English language with very few exceptions which is why I have it as the #1 important part of speech to know. 

Examples
People: girls, boys, father
Places: library, garden, park
Things: trees, flowers, rocks
Ideas and actions: justice, liberty, democracy
Conditions and qualities: joy, illness, happiness

2.) Pronoun: A word that stands for nouns or for words that take the place of nouns. When it comes to pronouns, you’re referring to somebody or something indirectly whether it is he, she, or it. If you are referring to more than one person or thing, you would have to use the plural they, we, you in order to get your point across. Personal pronouns are also apart of this part of speech as they are also used regularly with him, her, etc. being very useful.

Examples:

Jonathan said he lost his bike yesterday.

Cynthia said that it is a very hot day today. 

Please let her know that we send our deepest thanks. 

3.) Verb: A word that expresses time while showing an action, a condition, or the fact that something exists. Any complete sentence will display or showcase a relevant action that will draw the reader’s attention to your writing. There are thousands of verbs in the English language but the most common are eat, drink, go, have, do, be, etc. 

Examples:

Writers write fictional stories in order to entertain their audience. 

Baseball players play the sport because they are passionate about it.

While millionaires have a lot of money to spend, they are not always happy about that.

4.) Adjective: A word that is used to describe a noun or give a noun or pronoun a specific meaning. The process of an adjective describing a word is modifying it to become more descriptive. Descriptive words help to give life to your sentence and make it stand out to the reader. Adjectives answer important questions about the details of a sentence such as:

-What kind?
– Which one?
– How many?
– How much?

Examples:

The newlywed couple lives in a beautiful house.

Thomas is a kind and caring teenager.

Martin’s family is very generous to the community.

5.) Adverb: A word that adds meaning to a sentence or modifies three different parts of speech such as a verb, an adjective, or another adverb. While not as common as the other parts of speech, adverbs are really useful when it comes to giving directions and providing needed details. One of the purposes of an adverb is to modify a verb and answer the question:

– Where? Fall below, Move aside, Step down
– When? Arrived today, Left early, Came late
– In what way? Happily ran, Will run abruptly
– To what extent? Partly understands, Dry completely, Fully accomplish

6.) Preposition: A word that relates to a noun or pronoun, which appears in relation to another part of speech in the sentence. These are usually small words but that carry a big impact in terms of forming the complete meaning of a sentence. It is vital to understand when and where different prepositions are used in order to not get confused about them. There are dozens of prepositions but I have listed below some of the most commonly used ones. Prepositions are one of the most important aspects of mastering English grammar.

While not its own part of speech, Compound Prepositions which are made up of more than one word are also important to memorize. Some examples include: According to, ahead of, because of, in place of, in regard to, prior to, out of. 

7.) Conjunction: A word that is used to connect other words or groups of words in a sentence. Conjunctions are essentially the glue that hold the sentences together with two related ideas being joined by words like and, because, for, or when, if, etc. Conjunctions usually come in the middle of a sentence but it is possible that they can come near the beginning of the sentence or towards the end as well. However, conjunction words rarely ever start the sentence or come at the very end of one. 

Examples

He is the chief of police and also is a part-time National Guardsman. 

This would be a good time for you to pull the lever. 

I would like that idea better if you backed up your claim with facts.

There are three main kinds of conjunctions: coordinating conjunctions, correlative conjunctions, and subordinating conjunctions.

8.) Interjection: A word that expresses feeling or emotion; it functions independently of a sentence. Interjections are probably the most fun you can have in writing a sentence. You get to use fun, short words such as ah, ha, bravo, goodness, great, hurray, oh, oops, well, ugh, or whew which are all examples of words that express different feelings or emotions in the English language.

When it comes to where to place interjections within a sentence, there is a lot of flexibility about that. Usually, they come at the beginning or end of a sentence but it is up to the author entirely. Interjections are very important to use when writing dialogue for characters in a story or fictional novel. Interjections are the best part of speech to use in order to spice up your writing and make the reader engaged in the content. 

Examples:

Phew, I thought Mr. Jones was going to collect our Science homework today.”

Bravo! That performance by your orchestra was incredible tonight.”

Ugh…why did you go and lie to your parents? That was not a good idea.”

Overall, this is a good introduction to the eight parts of speech used in the English language. Over the next few weeks, you’ll see further posts that go more in depth about certain parts of speech that haven’t been covered yet such as adjectives and verbs. Until then, please be sure to use this blog post to improve your basic understanding of what parts of speech are and in which situations they are to be spoken or written. If you need to study the examples, please do so and I highly encourage readers to print out these notes to use in the future. Keep up the good work!