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A Look at Commas and Semi Colons

By: Sarah Folega - Updated: 24 Aug 2012 | comments*Discuss
Commas Adjectives Semi-colons English

Commas and semi-colons are common place in English writing. If a piece of text you were reading had no commas or semi-colons, you would struggle to understand what you were reading. There are however, certain rules and regulations where commas and semi-colons are concerned; some of which, we will go through here.

The Purpose Of The Comma

Commas are used inside of sentences, and they are basically used as a pause in the text. Commas have no actual meaning; however, they help add structure to a sentence, therefore add meaning to the sentence.

Using Commas In Lists

You would use a comma when creating a list or a series of events, or objects. When you come to the end of the list and the last two objects in it, a comma doesn’t normally need to separate them. Instead, you would add the word ‘and’ between them. But, if the two final items are long, a comma may be beneficial.

  • I need to buy tea, coffee, toilet paper, sugar, eggs, milk, butter and salt.
  • My favourite animals are lions, tigers, cats, dogs, elephants and hyenas.
  • Jackson wore his new cap, black jeans, white trainers, and his brand new black and white shirt.

Using Commas With Adjectives

When you are creating a list of adjectives or even adverbs, you will need to use commas to separate them.

  • I like the antique, brown, wooden chair.
  • I think I am going to buy the green, new, open-top car.
  • She crept silently, stealthily and quickly.

If only using two adjectives you could use a comma where you might otherwise put ‘and’.

  • I loved it because it was a short, simple piece.
  • My dog is a big, black one.

Commas And Numbers

In English, numbers after 999 are separated using commas. Commas separate the numbers, whereas periods (full stops) separate the decimals.

  • 1,000
  • 1,567
  • 1,399,500

Using Commas With Names And Addresses

Generally speaking, commas are used when writing addresses, titles following a name and some dates.

  • 45 England Road, England Town, England
  • Bolton, England
  • On the 17th November, 1999...
  • Maureen Lang, Stylist to the stars

Commas And Direct Speech

Direct speech is different to reported speech. When using reported speech, you won’t need to use a comma. Direct speech includes phrase such as “he said”, “she said” and so on.

  • Direct Speech – “I never want to see you again, he said.”
  • Reported Speech – “He told her he never wanted to see her again.”

Commas And Introductions

When using an introductory element to your writing, you will need to add a comma before adding your next point.

  • As the year came swiftly to an end, she realised how quick time flies.
  • During the speech at the university, he fell asleep.

Commas are usually used when combining two sentences into one. For shorter, well balanced sentences, using a comma is optional. However, it may bring a little more structure to your writing. Adjoining words such as "and, but, however and so", usually require a comma in front of them.


Semi-colons are thought of as ‘soft’ full stops. They join two related sentences together. Using semi-colons instead of full stops can allow the reader to see that the two ideas are connected in meaning.

  • All I can say is you did your best; now, we have to wait for the results.
  • Richard prefers tea; Sarah prefers coffee.
  • Samuel wants to stay in; Isabelle wants to go out.

Commas and semi-colons are an essential part of the English language. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to read, write or speak fluently. There are a lot of people who struggle with the rules associated with commas and semi-colons. With a little practice, everyone could be putting commas and semi-colons in the right place.

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