A comma marks a slight break between different parts of a sentence. Used properly, commas make the meaning of sentences clear by grouping and separating words, phrases, and clauses. It is recommended that the comma be used cautiously and wisely. Its used to connect new ideas to old ones, and to tell the reader when to pause a moment in their thinking (or in their speaking, if they’re reading out loud). In long sentences, it’s also used to separate clauses, so the reader understands which modifiers apply to which words, etc.

Use commas to separate items (words, phrases or numbers) in a series.

  • I need to buy flour, eggs and butter for my cakes while shopping today.

Use a comma to set off introductory words, mild interjections or names at the beginning of a sentence.

  • Well, that was an interesting movie!
  • “Alex, would you please put the milk in the fridge?”
  • Yes, there are seven days in a week.
  • Mr. Prime Minister, do you plan to change the carbon voting?

Use a comma before and after interruptions (embedded phrases and clauses) in a sentence. This includes appositions.

  • The Easter Show, I think, is the best of all the craft exhibitions.
  • Diane, the teacher, worked at least ten hours a day.
  • Will you, Debby, be able to finish on time?
  • Her grandmother, Elizabeth Marie, was 84 years old.
  • Mahatma Ghandi, the greatest exponent for peace, was a classic pacifist.

Use a comma after the greeting in a friendly letter and after the closing in any letter.

May 4th, 2013

Dear Anne,

Thank you for inviting me to your house on Sunday for lunch.

I hope we can do it again sometime soon.

Yours faithfully,


Use an ‘Oxford comma’ or it can be referred to as the ‘serial comma,’ to clarify list items that are more than one.

  • The pansies are black and white, red and yellow, and purple and black. (More than one in each category)
  • My favourite sandwiches are chicken, bacon, and ham and cheese. (Ham and cheese is a single unit.)

Use commas to separate the following connectives from the rest of the sentence.

  • In fact, Generally, Actually, Most importantly,
  • Also, Furthermore, In addition, Additionally,
  • Firstly, Secondly Thirdly, Finally etc.
  • Meanwhile, During, While,
  • Consequently, As a result, Anyway,
  • First of all, I just want to say, After all,
  • However, Although, On the other hand, In other words.

Activities to support the strategy

Activity 1

As a beginning resource teachers can use authentic classroom texts to begin exploring the differing uses of commas.

Explore commas in a list. For example, in Eric Carles’ The Very Hungry Caterpillar write the sentence on the board which lists what the caterpillar ate, and remove all the commas. Discuss list composition and the purpose of commas (to separate words, phrases or numbers in a series). Students compose own lists.

Activity 2: using comma activities

Use the hand out as a starter for group or partner work.

Comma activities handout (PDF 31.88KB)

Activity 3: authentic text exploration

Using texts students are currently studying find examples of each type of comma usage. Create posters, iPad, PowerPoints or other resources that could then be used to teach younger students. Alternatively this could be used as an introductory activity where students create their own “rules” for comma usage after finding examples in their current texts. These can then be the examples that students use and refer to in creating the teaching resources.

Variation: Once these resources are created students are expected to use them in their own writing. Part of each writing conference should be where students identify their inclusion of each type of comma and why it was included. Writing conferences can be student to teacher, student to student or student to group (no more than 3 students). As a strategy writing conferences allow regular accountable conversations and allow students the opportunity to celebrate success as well as feedback for future growth. One method of a writing conference might include “two stars and a wish”. The stars are what the student has achieved and the wish is a gentle reminder of what needs to be followed up on. It also keeps the conference time short and sharp.

Activity 4: rules activity

Students work with a partner to complete the table and their own examples.

Rules activity (PDF 206.24KB)


Australian curriculum reference

ACELA1521: Understand the uses of commas to separate clauses: identifying different uses of commas in texts

NSW syllabus reference

EN3-6B: Uses knowledge of sentence structure, grammar, punctuation and vocabulary to respond to and compose clear and cohesive texts in different media and text.

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