The comma is widely used in writing and is the most commonly tested concept on the ACT English Test. Therefore, it’s extremely important to understand how to correctly use commas and when to avoid them.
One chapter cannot fully describe everything there is to know about comma usage, which is why you’ll find comma-related information in other sections that discuss FANBOYS, run-ons, sentence structures, etc. The following are a few important comma usage rules not primarily covered in other chapters.
If a clause can be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence, it needs to be surrounded by commas.
Take the orange font clauses out of these examples and you still have three clear and complete sentences. If you aren’t sure whether a clause needs to be surrounded by commas, try crossing it out. If the sentence still makes sense, then the commas are needed; if it doesn’t make sense, then the commas are not needed.
Example: The Tower of London, which was begun by William the Conqueror in 1078, is one of the largest and most imposing fortifications in England.
As you can see, the sentence still makes sense even when you remove the clause in the orange font: The Tower of London is one of the largest and most imposing fortifications in England.
However, if we remove one or both of the commas, then the sentence becomes incorrect.
Wrong: The Tower of London, which was begun by William the Conqueror in 1078 is one of the largest and most imposing fortifications in England.
Wrong The Tower of London which was begun by William the Conqueror in 1078 is one of the largest and most imposing fortifications in England.
Sometimes non-essential clauses can be very long. In such cases, look all the way back to the beginning of the sentence in order to identify the start of the non-essential clause. You will need to cross out a lot of information to test whether a non-essential clause is present.
Important: Two commas do not always equal a non-essential clause! One common mistake is to assume that the presence of two commas in a sentence automatically indicates a non-essential clause.
Consider the following two sentences:
Correct: London, which was one of the largest and most important cities in Europe during the Middle Ages, remains an important financial and cultural centre today.
This sentence contains a non-essential clause that can be removed without altering its basic meaning.
Wrong: During the Middle Ages, London was one of the largest and most important cities in Europe, and today it remains an important financial and cultural center.
The sentence is wrong if we cross out the information between the commas. The information between the commas is actually the important information and the independent clause.
You need to remove the part of the sentence that you believe is non-essential and read the sentence without it to test. If that doesn’t work, try again with a different part of the sentence. This process is very important.
On the other hand, consider this version of the passage:
A comma rule that everyone is most familiar with is that in lists of three or more items, you must place a comma after every item except the last. This is called a serial comma or the Oxford comma.
Example: The pirate loves Barbados because there’s so much to do, including shopping for eye patches, sharpening his sword, and visiting the pub.
After looking at the last two rules, you might assume that you need to put a comma anywhere you see ‘and,’ but that’s not the case!
For example: James and his brother travel led to Oregon and Washington.
Often, you will see a list that doesn’t look like a list because each item is so long. Be careful here.
Correct: Yesterday, Talia went on a boring first date that she left early and plotted to take over the world using nothing but duct tape and string.
You don’t need commas in this sentence because it only lists two items.
In a sentence with more than one adjective in front of a noun or pronoun, and the order of the adjectives doesn’t matter, you need to separate the adjectives with a comma.
The first sentence makes perfect sense with the new word order, so it needs a comma: the hot, dry desert.
The second, however, doesn’t work when the order of the adjectives is switched, so no comma is needed: the first female astronaut.
Proper names and titles can be either essential or non-essential to a sentence. Context will decide if we need commas around names and titles or not.
The basic idea here is simple: if the proper name being used is describing the ‘only thing’ in the world, use a comma to offset the name. If it’s not, don’t use commas.
Correct: I went to see Woody Allen’s latest movie, “Midnight in Paris,” with my oldest friend, Jessie.
In the above example, you need a comma after ‘movie’ because “Midnight in Paris” is the only film that could be described as Mr. Allen’s newest movie in theaters and a comma after ‘friend’ because “Jessie” is the only thing in the world described by “my oldest friend.” Make sense?
Using punctuation and transitions can be confusing, but here’s a tip to remember: Place commas around the transition word if it is used in middle of a clause. Transitions words are always non-essential.
Correct: The Tower of London was built during the Norman Conquest. Nearly a thousand years later, however, it still remains standing.
The commas around ‘however’ tell us that if we cross that word out, the sentence will still make sense.
The need for two commas is determined solely by context. If you are unsure which type of punctuation should be used, cross out the word or phrase in question and read the sentence without it.
If the sentence makes sense, the word or phrase is being used non-essential, and two commas must be used. If the sentence does not make sense, or a comma splice is created, a semicolon or period is required.
Important: If it’s used to begin a new clause, a transition should never follow a comma.
Wrong: Independent Clause, Transition, Independent Clause
Correct: Independent Clause; Transition, Independent Clause
Correct: Independent Clause. Transition, Independent Clause
Wrong: The tomato is one of the most popular salad ingredients, however, it is actually a fruit.
Correct: The tomato is a popular salad ingredient; however, it is actually a fruit.
Correct: The tomato is a popular salad ingredient. However, it is actually a fruit.
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The ACT English section usually tests 4-5 questions on subject-verb agreement on every test. Here we tell you all you need to know about subject-verb agreements on the ACT.
The SAT Writing and Language Test repeatedly tests the proper usage of verb tenses. Knowing when to use different verb tenses and forms will be extremely beneficial to you on this part of the test.
The SAT Writing and Language Test is a passage-based test. There are four multi-paragraph passages and 44 questions to go with them. The makers of the SAT break this test down into two main sections: Usage and Mechanics and Rhetorical Skills.
Though sentence structures are rarely tested on the SAT, you will need to understand them to accurately answer comma-based questions.
Modifiers are words, phrases or clauses used to describe something in a sentence. They are often tested on the SAT in the form of comma usage.
Even though comma usage is the most prominent punctuation rule tested on the ACT, other punctuation such as semicolons, colons, dashes, and apostrophes are frequently tested as well.
The comma is widely used in writing and is the most commonly tested concept on the SAT Writing and Language Test. Therefore, it’s extremely important to understand how to correctly use commas and when to avoid them.
There are many pesky little grammar rules that you’ll be tested on as part of the SAT. Therefore, it’s important to not just know these grammar rules, but also how test questions are structured .
Parallelism is a very strange concept. Unlike commas, semicolons, pronouns, tenses, etc., parallelism isn’t applied to just a single area of grammar – it spans all aspects of the English language.