1. Use commas to separate independent clauses when they are joined by any of these coordinating conjunctions: and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet.
The concert was over, but the crowd did not want to leave.
The client explained the problem, but the manager did not give him a refund.
Last week was my mother’s birthday, so I gave her a bracelet.
He has failed many times, yet he refuses to give up.
He had to listen carefully, for the problem was quite complicated.
I ate my entire dinner, and I ordered dessert as well.
She wants to do well on the IELTS, so she goes to the library every day to study.
She has friends in Los Angeles, and she still keeps in touch with her friends in Ottawa.
I did not want to talk to the professor, nor did he want to talk to me.
I paid for a rescore on TOEFL, but the score did not change.
I have been studying hard for TOEFL, so this month I am going to take it.
2. Use commas after introductory a) clauses, b) phrases, or c) words that come before the main clause.
a. Common starter words for introductory clauses that should be followed by a comma include after, although, as, because, if, since, when, while.
While I was watching television, the phone rang.
Because she was already late for class, she decided to go to the library and study instead.
If you do not study for TOEFL, you will not get a very high score.
When I had a sore throat and a runny nose, I decided to go to the doctor for a COVID test.
After I tested positive for COVID, I had to quarantine for two weeks.
b. However, don’t put a comma after the main clause when a dependent (subordinate) clause follows it.
INCORRECT: The phone rang, while I was watching television.
INCORRECT: I had to quarantine for two weeks, after I tested positive for COVID.
In the above two examples, remove the commas!
Common introductory phrases that should be followed by a comma include participial and infinitive phrases, absolute phrases, nonessential appositive phrases, and long prepositional phrases (over four words).
To get a good grade, it is essential to study.
Having finished his dinner, he went to his room to study.
As it was very hot outside, we went in the library to enjoy the air conditioning.
c. Common introductory words (IF THEY ARE AT THE BEGINNING OF THE SENTENCE) that should be followed by a comma include yes, however, well, meanwhile, moreover, furthermore, still, on the other hand.
However, the lecture does not agree with the reading text.
Moreover, the lecture states that there is little evidence to support this claim.
Many students take the TOEFL multiple times. On the other hand, some students pass the TOEFL the first time they take the exam.
The students worked on their TOEFL exams. Meanwhile, the proctor played Candy Crush on his cell phone.
She had never studied for the TOEFL before. Still, she wanted to try it before she hired a tutor.
Furthermore, the lecture states that non-flowering plants did not exist two hundred million years ago.
Well, he finally passed his exam in the end.
Yes, I have already passed my board exams.
STUDENTS PLEASE NOTE: WHEN YOU USE CERTAIN TRANSITIONS IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SENTENCE, USE A SEMI-COLON BEFORE THE TRANSITION AND A COMMA AFTER IT. HERE ARE SOME EXAMPLES:
The lecture states that the Greeks used the burning mirror; however, the reading opposes this and says they did not have the technology for such an innovation.
My father strongly encouraged me to go to medical school; on the other hand, my mother wanted me to study journalism.
The lecture states that global warming is a major problem for the fauna in the marshlands; moreover, the impact of human activity has worsened the situation for wildlife.
3. Use a pair of commas in the middle of a sentence to set off clauses, phrases, and words that are not essential to the meaning of the sentence. Use one comma before to indicate the beginning of the pause and one at the end to indicate the end of the pause.
Here are some clues to help you decide whether the sentence element is essential:
- If you leave out the clause, phrase, or word, does the sentence still make sense?
- Does the clause, phrase, or word interrupt the flow of words in the original sentence?
- If you move the element to a different position in the sentence, does the sentence still make sense?
If you answer “yes” to one or more of these questions, then the element in question is nonessential and should be set off with commas. Here are some example sentences with nonessential elements:
Clause: Tuesday, which is my day off, is the only day when I am available to meet.
Phrase: This restaurant has an exciting atmosphere. The food, on the other hand, is rather bland.
Word: I usually love Christopher Nolan movies. This one, though, was not very good.
4. Do not use commas to set off essential – very important— elements of the sentence, such as clauses beginning with that (relative clauses). That clauses after nouns are always essential. That clauses following a verb expressing mental action are always essential– do not use a comma.
(Examples of mental actions: The student thinks that the university should not cancel night classes. The man believes that the proposal is going to cause problems for the college. The woman feels that the professor is too strict.)
Essential clauses are the ones that give the important information; in other words, without the essential clause, the sentence would not make sense to the reader. Again, do not use commas.
That clauses after nouns:
The movie that I watched last night was amazing.
The book that I am reading is excellent.
The woman that he married is gorgeous.
The man that moved in next door has two sons.
The children that I teach are very obedient and kind.
The dog that I adopted can do some basic tricks.
NOTICE HOW WITHOUT THE INFORMATION GIVEN AFTER “THAT” THE READER WOULD HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT. For example, “The movie was amazing.” Which movie? What is the writer talking about? “that I watched last night” is essential information.
However, non-essential information does require commas!
Kale, which is very nutritious, has a bitter taste.
My neighbor, who has three kids, often offers to drive my children to school.
John, who has never been married, is dating a wonderful woman who works as a nurse.
Carrots, which contain a lot of vitamins, are known to be helpful for improving eyesight.
My brother, who completed a medical degree, has a great deal of student debt that he wants to pay as soon as possible.
My daughter, wearing her favorite dinosaur shirt, asked me to take her to the natural history museum to look at fossils.
Central Park, which was designed by Frederick Olmsted, is the most venerated park in the state of New York.
The professor, smiling broadly, warned us that tomorrow would be our first exam.
My son, who dreams of being a veterinarian, has had a love for animals for his entire life.
NOTICE THE DIFFERENCE- THESE SENTENCES WOULD MAKE PERFECT SENSE TO THE READER WITHOUT THE INFORMATION IN BETWEEN THE COMMAS!
Note that you should put commas around extra information that doesn’t have a verb:
My son, Mohammed, is home from college.
Sarah, the captain of the soccer team, injured her ankle playing in last night’s tournament.
Fruit, especially pears, can actually aid your digestion.
5. Use commas to separate three or more words, phrases, or clauses written in a series.
New York offers amazing tourist sites, exciting job opportunities, and delicious cuisine.
The governor promised to lower taxes, protect the environment, reduce crime, and end unemployment.
The TOEFL is a test of a student’s writing, speaking, listening, and reading skills.
6. Use commas to separate two or more adjectives that describe the same noun.
My husband has an interesting, challenging job.
My son has a sweet, charming nature.
New York is a busy, cosmopolitan, amazing city.
They live in a quiet, modest neighborhood.
ALSO USE COMMAS IN LISTS.
He went to the store to buy carrots, apples, and bread.
She wants to study math, science, and German.
7. Use a comma near the end of a sentence to separate contrasted coordinate elements or to indicate a distinct pause or shift.
Chimpanzees seem intelligent, almost human.
Transporting food and medical supplies to remote areas is difficult, even now.
Herbivores consume plant matter, not meat.
I live in the same time zone as you, Pacific time zone.
Everyone is our class did very well on the IELTS, even Francisca.
All of my children are studying to become dentists, except Noor.
The dinosaurs probably went extinct due to several factors, not just one.
8. Use commas to set off phrases at the end of the sentence that refer to the beginning or middle of the sentence.
John left the party early, saying he felt sick.
Priya broke up with Arjun, admitting she no longer loved him.
9. Use commas to set off all geographical names, items in dates (except the month and day), addresses (except the street number and name), and titles in names.
I live in Pheonix, Arizona.
I now live in Los Angeles, California, but I am from Canada.
Birmingham, Alabama, gets its name from Birmingham, England.
She was born on July 4, 1988.
My birthday is September 24th, 1988.
(When you use just the month and the year, no comma is necessary after the month or year: The average temperatures in July 2004 were much lower than July 2021.)
10. Use a comma to shift between the main discourse and a quotation. As many of you use quotations in TOEFL writing, please note these rules.
As the popular expression goes, “No pain, no gain.”
My professor told me, “You will have to give me the work by tomorrow.”
My mother said, “I will encourage you to follow your dreams.”
11. Use commas wherever necessary to prevent possible confusion or misreading.
The things I enjoy most are cooking, my family, and my pets.
NOTE: The things I enjoy most are cooking my family and my pets- This sounds like you enjoy cooking your family and pets!
Commas in the wrong places can break a sentence into illogical segments or confuse readers with unnecessary and unexpected pauses.
12. Don’t use a comma to separate the subject from the verb.
INCORRECT: Drinking alcohol at sixteen, is not legal in my country.
INCORRECT: The most important quality of a student, is the ability to take good notes.
INCORRECT: The TOEFL test, has been more challenging than the FPGEE.
INCORRECT: My greatest hope as a mother, is that my son will grow up to be a doctor.
Remove the commas in ALL of the examples above.
13. Don’t put a comma between the two verbs or verb phrases in a compound predicate.
INCORRECT: We began to study, and ate the snacks we prepared.
INCORRECT: I turned the corner, and hit a tree with my car.
In both of the above sentences, remove the commas.
14. Don’t put a comma between the two nouns, noun phrases, or noun clauses in a compound subject or compound object.
INCORRECT (compound subject): The football coach, and the English teacher got married.
Remove the comma!
INCORRECT (compound object): The pharmacy manager told he had a position, that he wanted to interview me for.
Remove the comma!
15. Don’t put a comma after the main clause when a dependent (subordinate) clause follows it!
INCORRECT: The student asked for a pencil, while he was writing the test.
INCORRECT: The proctor interrupted me, during the TOEFL.
In both of the examples above, remove the comma.
However, these are correct:
While he was writing the test, the student asked for a pencil.
During the TOEFL, the proctor interrupted me.
16. Do not use a comma before a conjunction if they do not separate two complete sentences.
INCORRECT: I need to study, and eat.
INCORRECT: I want to get coffee, or tea.
Remove the commas!
PRACTICE WHAT YOU LEARNED:
FIX THE MISTAKES IN THESE SENTENCES:
- You need to think about a career, while you are young.
- He wanted to go but, his brother stopped him.
- She believes, that this policy is not good for the university.
- Everyone at the test center had brought their ID except Ahmed.
- The lecture states that advertisements do not interrupt the beauty of the natural environment however, the reading completely disagrees.
- She has taken the TOEFL test many times but, has not achieved her goal score.
- The best thing before the test, is to try to get some sleep.
- The customer who was agitated asked to speak to a manager immediately.
- My brother-in-law, is studying to be a doctor.
- Moreover the people in the test center were speaking very loudly.
- The dinosaurs, that survived the extinction, evolved into birds.
- She told him many times to take the test yet he procrastinated for several years.
- On the other hand there are many reasons why skeptics do not support the theory.
- We told him the situation was very dangerous but he insisted that he would return safely.
- He needs to see a doctor, before his symptoms get worse.
- Many tutors say the TOEFL is an easy test yet, they have never taken the test themselves.
- The problem, is that I have to study but I do not have enough free time.
- The Statue of Liberty which was a gift of friendship from the people of France to the United States is recognized as a universal symbol of freedom and democracy.
- The professor got a phone call, during the middle of her presentation.
- She has been working very hard so, everyone expects that she will get a promotion.
- You need to think about a career while you are young. OR While you are young, you need to think about a career.
- He wanted to go, but his brother stopped him.
- REMOVE THE COMMA
- Everyone at the test center had brought their ID, except Ahmed.
- The lecture states that advertisements do not interrupt the beauty of the natural environment; however, the reading completely disagrees.
- She has taken the TOEFL many times, but has not achieved her goal score.
- REMOVE THE COMMA
- The customer, who was agitated, asked to speak to a manager immediately.
- REMOVE THE COMMA
- Moreover, the people in the test center were speaking very loudly.
- REMOVE BOTH COMMAS
- She told him many times to take the test, yet he procrastinated for several years.
- On the other hand, there are many reasons why skeptics do not support the theory.
- We told him many times the situation was very dangerous, but he insisted that he would return safely.
- He needs to see a doctor before his symptoms get worse. OR Before his symptoms get worse, he needs to see a doctor.
- Many tutors say the TOEFL is an easy test, yet they have never taken the test themselves.
- REMOVE THE COMMA
- The Statue of Liberty, which was a gift of friendship from the people of France to the United States, is recognized as a universal symbol of freedom and democracy.
- The professor got a phone call during the middle of her presentation. OR During the middle of her presentation, the professor got a phone call.
- She has been working very hard, so everyone expects she will get a promotion.