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  • Raghav Sand

English Essentials: Comma

Significance of Punctuation

Punctuation is an aspect of written English. We cannot use or not use a comma or semicolon because we like it or do not feel like using it. Perhaps people use commas merely because they might pause there in speech. Improper punctuation makes it difficult for the reader and ultimately the essence of message may get lost. In spoken English, we can use all sorts of tricks to make our meaning clear. Even if everything fails, we have the option of repeating what we have said. Through these series of articles, readers will be given a brief outline of common punctuation, and hopefully we can together get better at using them in our everyday written communication.

The Comma

The comma (,) is often the most used, and also the most wrongly used punctuation. Rules for using comma are broadly divided in four distinct heads, namely:

  1. Listing comma

  2. Joining comma

  3. Gapping comma

  4. Bracketing comma

Listing Comma

Listing comma removes the clumsiness that may have resulted from using the word ‘and’ repeatedly in a list of things, people, places or a combination of all these. The clear rules for using a listing comma are:

  1. Use a listing comma in a list wherever you could conceivably use the word and (or or) instead.

  2. Put a listing comma before and or or only if it is necessary to make your meaning clear.

Example: The three national holidays in India are Republic Day, Independence Day and Gandhi Jayanti.

Joining Comma

The joining comma is used to join two complete sentences into a single sentence. It must be followed by a suitable connecting word like and / or / but / while / yet. Some examples are:

  1. Apple has launched a new iPhone this week, and Samsung is expected to follow suit.

  2. Food inflation has been steadily rising in the past few months, but some respite is expected in the next quarter.

  3. Railways has been investing in infrastructure development, yet it does not seem enough to keep pace with the requirement.

Do not use a joining comma in any other way. We should not join two complete sentences with a comma. Tomorrow the sunrise is scheduled at six in the morning, sunset will be around seven in the evening. This is wrong usage of comma as both the sentences are complete in their own right. The correct way to write the above sentence would be: Tomorrow the sunrise is scheduled at six in the morning, and sunset will be around seven in the evening.

Gapping Comma

The gapping comma is comparatively easy. It is used to show that one or more words have been left out when the missing words would only repeat the words already used earlier in the same sentence.

Winters in northern India have chilly winds and low temperatures; in south, it is pleasant at best. The gapping comma here shows that the word winter and temperatures, which might have been repeated, have instead been omitted. The longer equivalent of the above sentence will be like this: Winters in northern India have chilly winds and low temperatures; in south India winters have pleasant weather at best.

Bracketing Commas

A pair of bracketing commas is used to mark off a weak interruption which could be removed from the sentence without deviating from the meaning and message.

Stubble burning, a common practice in north India, accounted for six per cent of Delhi’s PM2.5 pollution on Thursday. In the above sentence, a common practice in north India, is a weak interruption. Another example: Narendra Modi, born in 1950, is the first Prime Minister to be born in independent India. In this sentence, born in 1950, is the weak interruption being kept in a bracketing comma.

Summary of Comma

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