Commas and Semicolons



Commas with Conjunctions

Do you need a comma when you use “and” or “but”?

Do you need a comma with any of the conjunctions (FANBOYS)?

It depends.

IC = independent clause (a complete sentence; can stand alone)

DC = dependent clause (not a complete sentence; cannot stand alone)

conj = conjunction (a joining word, FANBOYS)

The patterns are:

IC , conj IC.

IC ; IC.


IC conj DC.

If an IC is followed by a DC, you do not need a comma between them.

If what’s on both sides of the comma can’t stand alone as complete sentences, you don’t need that comma.

Get rid of any “IC, conj DC” in your writing. No commas needed!


Enslaved Africans were torn apart from their families and sold by cruel owners to other plantations.

“Sold by cruel owners…” cannot stand alone — it’s a DC. Thus, no comma is needed.

Commas with Openings or Introductions

Think opening adjectives/adverbs.

If you begin a sentence with any kind of opening or introduction — an opening/introductory word, phrase, or clause (clause = group of words), set it off by a comma.

You learned about using commas after opening adjectives or adverbs — this is the same kind of comma usage. When you start with any kind of opening word, phrase, or clause, set it off with a comma.

The pattern is:

Opening/introduction, subject of the sentence…

What comes after the comma is usually the subject of the sentence.


With absolutely no hesitation, Sam Dog stole my sandwich right off my plate.

Before I could do anything, she gulped it down in two bites.

Disappointed that I’d lost my sandwich, I sighed.

Ashamed, Sam Dog could not look at me.

Because she knew I was upset with her, she hid in the bedroom for the next hour.

Commas with Nonessential Elements or Information

Think delayed adjectives/adverbs.

Set off non-essential information, meaning extra information or details that you’re adding to make your sentence more descriptive, with commas. Non-essential information or details are those that you could take out of the sentence and still have a complete sentence, but of course you don’t want to take out because they’re adding more description.

The pattern: 

Essential information, nonessential detail, essential information.

Essential information, nonessential detail.


Harriet Beecher Stowe, sister of Downer Seminary founder Catherine Beecher, wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1857.

Commas with that vs. which

that = essential information — you cannot remove it from the sentence without changing the core meaning of the sentence — very specific, very important detail that must be included in the sentence = no commas

which = nonessential, added information — detail you want to include, though it could be removed without changing the core meaning of the sentence — extra description, extra detail  = commas


The sweater that I lost was my favorite. — “that I lost” is essential; you are talking specifically about that particular sweater.

The sweater, which my grandma gave me, is my favorite one. — “which my grandma gave me” isn’t essential; you’re adding in that extra information that your favorite sweater came from grandma.


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