Commas — A Big Hint

Commas cause a lot of problems, both because we do not always know exactly where to place them, and because when we do not have them (or have too many of them), our sentences become highly confusing.

Punctuation marks are like traffic signals. Without stoplights and yield signs and turn lanes, we could not drive safely and efficiently. We need the rules of the road. The same is true for writing—we need to control our thoughts or else they will swerve out of control and smash into other ideas! A wreck like that is no way to communicate.

Here’s the big hint: if a sentence begins with one of these wordsBefore, After, During, Since, Whenthen you will need a comma in that sentence.

Those are common words triggering commas, so if you can simply remember them and use the commas correctly (instead of trying to remember a lot of complex terms and rules), you will avoid many mistakes. Notice that all those words have to do with time. Using them places an action in time.

  • When I went outside, the wind nearly blew off my hat!

The comma splits the action.  First, the person goes outside.  Second, the hat nearly blows away. When one thing happens, then something else happens—that is the structure of the sentence.

Here are more examples:

  • Before we go to lunch, we must finish the class project.
  • After dinner tonight, she will go for a walk in the park.
  • During the baseball game, it started to rain.
  • Since last week, I have wanted to go shopping.
  • When I come home from school, I will help my little sister with her homework.

As you can see, the comma is always placed where it splits the actions. Two things happen in these sentences, and the comma separates the two actions. That’s it! Remember those five words. If you begin a sentence with them, then your sentence will need a comma. (We can explore if/then statements and commas some other month!)


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