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Tutorial on Commas, Colons and Semicolons


Commas help readers know when to pause, and they prevent sentence parts from colliding unexpectedly.

Some common places where commas should be used are after an introductory word group and between two independent clauses, which are word groups that could stand alone as sentences, when separated by a coordinating conjunction such as and or but. (The latter are called compound sentences). Commas should also be used with direct quotations and dates, and around adjective clauses, which are word groups that describe nouns, and after transitional expressions such as however and for example.  

EXERCISE: Place commas where needed in the following sentences:

1. We’ve all heard of love at first sight but I fell in love at first joke.

2. When Ronald Reagan ran for president in 1980 he began the campaign as the Republican frontrunner.

3. As you know we are prepared to fight until the bitter end.

4. While we were eating a groundhog ran into the yard.

5. He makes sense but the current system is not a failure.

6. As a matter of fact American football was created by fans who wanted to play a more organized game of rugby.

7. “I think I look good in this dress” she said.

8. The pavement was littered with trash glass and broken plastic.

9. On September 11 2001 terrorists attacked the United States.

10. Personal computers which are in every house nowadays were unheard of in the 1970s.


Semicolons can be used between two independent clauses that are closely related. They can connect two thoughts that could otherwise stand alone as sentences.

EXERCISE: Place semicolons or commas where needed in the following sentences:

1. It rained yesterday I was soaking wet as a result.

2. Morale is low on our team it has been that way all season.

3. The job market is improving however many recent college graduates remain nervous.


The colon is used to call attention to the words that follow it. It helps direct the reader’s attention to a list or a quotation.

EXERCISE: Place colons and/or commas and semicolons where needed in the following sentences.

1. My roommate is constantly complaining of two things loud music and my smelly uniform.

2. There are three reasons he looks old wrinkles thinning hair and bad knees.

3. My morning routine includes the following a cup of coffee a light breakfast a short workout and a hot shower.

4. Consider these words from a great American patriot “Live free or die.”


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