Commas - sigh - there is so much stress surrounding such a little thing!
Almost every time I ask a new group of students, "how do you know where to put a comma?" They will answer, "commas go where you pause to breathe."
This is a very good thing to remember when you are reading. We do pause at commas when we read, however, we do not put commas where we want the reader to pause. Commas have very specific places they ought to be and the "fewer commas the better" is a guide to follow.
So where do I put commas? I am so glad you asked!
Here is the shortlist. Commas are used:
1. In lists of two or more subjects, verbs, or objects of the sentence
example: I need to buy apples, pears, bananas, and apples.
2. In lists of three or more adjectives (but not between the last adjective and the noun)
Example: The brown, furry, friendly dog wagged her tail.
3. Directly before coordinating conjunctions (For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So) if there is a complete sentence after them.
Example: I love apples, and I eat them everyday. but not in I love apples and eat them everyday. (that is a list of 2 verbs!)
4. After the subordinate clause when it is put at the beginning of the sentence
Example: Since Rob cares deeply for dogs, he volunteers at the dog shelter. but NOT when it is the other way around: Rob volunteers at the dog shelter since he cares deeply for dogs
5. To set off an introductory clause (a sentence fragment put at the beginning of a sentence)
Example: Each morning, I take my dog for a walk.
This is the "cheat sheet" list of basic rules for comma use. Just please remember -
Breath marks look like commas and they are used in music for wind instruments. They appear above the staff and yes they mean to take a breath! The English language does not have breath marks!
Need some more help on how to teach this? Check out this free download for Comma Quandary.