In another post I talk about punctuation that we use at the end of sentences (periods, question marks, and exclamation points). In this post, I want to talk about the punctuation that we use in the middle of sentences: commas, colons, and semicolons.
CommaWe use commas for a couple different reasons.
First,we use the comma to separate three or more items in a list.
I need to go to the store and buy rice, milk, and chicken.
Second, we also use a comma when we have more than one clause in a sentence.
(2 independent clauses)
Yesterday my sister went to the store, but I stayed home to watch the basketball game.
(dependent clause + independent clause)
Although the traffic was heavy, I still got to work on time.
However, if there is an independent clause at the beginning of the sentence, and it is followed by a dependent clause, then you don't need a comma.
(independent clause + dependent clause - no comma necessary)
I still got to work on time although the traffic was heavy.
ColonThe colon has more than one use in English.
First, we can use the colon to introduce a list.
She bought many things at the store: apples, oranges, milk and butter.
In addition, the colon is used to join two complete sentences where the second sentence builds on the idea expressed in the first sentence. Let me point out that this use of the colon is not very common. Use it sparingly.
She won the prize of a lifetime: she won a two-week vacation to Europe!
It can be difficult to know when this use of the colon is o.k. A good rule of thumb is, if you could place "namely" or "that is" between the 2 sentences, then it's probably o.k. to use the colon.
SemicolonWe use the semicolon to show that two complete sentences are related to each other.
My neighbors are a wonderful family; they're always offering to help me any way they can.
I really enjoyed that movie; it was funny, it had great dialogue, and it had a lot of action as well.
PracticeSo now let's practice. I have written 6 sentences. Read each sentence carefully, and decide if it's correct or incorrect. Answers are below.
1. (correct / incorrect) She bought bananas, and a loaf of bread at the store.
2. (correct / incorrect) He had a lot of fun at the party; he met some new friends and had a lot of fun dancing.
3. (correct / incorrect) Many tourists visit Disney World, Universal Studios and the Kennedy Space Center when they go to Florida.
4. (correct / incorrect) I had a very busy day today; I started my new job, and I went to a friend's birthday party after work.
5. (correct / incorrect) I had so much fun on my vacation last month: I visited five national parks, I went to Disney World, and I learned how to surf!
6. (correct / incorrect) I didn't feel cold, even though I was wearing only a light jacket during the snowstorm.
1. incorrect - There are only two items in the list, so the comma is not necessary.
6. incorrect - The comma is not necessary in this sentence.
Related: Punctuation - Part 1
How did you do with this practice activity? Was it easy or difficult for you? Please share your comments below.
Matthew Huseby, M.A.
My Language Success LLC
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