Resources for Learning

Using Commas

Comma use varies in the publishing world. Basic rules for academic papers are:

• Use a comma after a transitional word, phrase, or dependent clause that introduces or modifies a sentence, e.g.
  • Finally, the measure was passed in the Senate.
  • As shown in figure 3., readership began to drop off sharply in 2004.
  • Because the profits were higher, no one expressed alarm.
  • Although all of us read the same words on the page, we respond differently.
  • When possible, the birds were observed three times per day.


  • Although, the vote was too close to call beforehand.
  • Fat molecules, do pass through cell membranes easily.
  • Being centrally located, is the key to the company’s success.
•Use a comma after a word or phrase that precedes and describes the subject of the sentence (the subject is underlined), e.g.
  • Panicked, the townspeople fled into the night.
  • Reading by lamplight, he devoured the classics at an early age.
  • Famous as a place of learning, Oxford University has had its share of tragedy.
• Use a comma before a comment or qualification tagged on the end of a sentence, e.g.
  • The data suggest that we should continue the treatment, not end it.
  • Bulgaria attacked its neighbor, despite international outcry.
  • Depression is a serious illness, often drawing its victims toward suicide.
• Use a comma between each item in a series, e.g.
  • In this paper I discuss the short stories, essays, and novels of Hemingway.
  • All students should read the chapter, take notes, and answer the study questions.
• Optionally use a comma before but, or, and, nor, yet, so, and for when they connect two independent clauses, e.g.
  • By now word has gotten around, so no one wants to hear what he has to say.
  • The report surprised them, but ultimately the committee accepted it.
•  Use a comma before and after a word or phrase that interrupts the flow of the sentence, e.g.
  • The bond market will, therefore, react quickly to such news.
  • American diplomats, led by Secretary Powell, faced new challenges.
  • Smithson spoke, against the advice of her attorneys, to the press.