Comma Rules

When to Use Commas

Between more than two items in a series

The most popular sports in the U.S. are football, basketball, and tennis.

Eating out, swimming, and going to the movies are popular forms of entertainment.

Paul came home late, went to bed, and slept for 10 hours.


Between two or more adjectives, when the adjective positions are interchangeable

She is a strong, healthy woman.

It is over by the black, adjustable armchair.

NOTE: English adjective order generally places essential, physical, or unchanging adjectives closer to the nouns they modify.


Between two independent clauses joined with a coordinating conjunction

Fast food causes various health problems, but many people eat it to save time.

John was in a car accident, so he will be absent from class for a while.


After a dependent clause at the beginning of a sentence

When my grandparents arrived in the U.S., they had no friends.

Because the dust storm covered my car, I couldn’t recognize it in the parking lot.

Even though economics is difficult, I’m sticking with it.

If the air conditioning fails, we will probably have to cancel classes.

NOTE: If the dependent clause comes second, no comma is needed.

We will probably have to cancel classes if the air conditioning fails.


After an introductory word or phrase

My first day at SFS-Qatar was busy.  First, I went to my English class.

Yesterday, I bought some supplies for school.  For example, I bought a backpack.


Around an interrupting word or phrase

I am, by the way, very nervous about this.

She is, nevertheless, my best friend.


Around nonessential words, clauses, or phrases

My sister, who lives across the street, always watches my cats when I travel.

The tiramisu, which I had at Joe’s, was delicious!

NOTE: clauses that begin with “that” are considered essential

The tiramisu that I had at Joe’s was delicious!


Edit the sentences below for punctuation. Add commas as needed.

  1. Your uncle willed me all his properties houses and cars
  2. We play sports such as basketball volleyball squash and tennis
  3. Reading daydreaming and playing the piano were my favorite when I was a child
  4. Jake was a warm gentle affectionate Swedish giant
  5. Our teacher is tall strong smart athletic and engaging
  6. You can come today but I will be away from my desk
  7. Please don’t drink and drive or text message while driving
  8. Yesterday I hoped that I would find out how the story ended
  9. After you finish what you are doing you must close all the windows
  10. When it snows hard only grade schools will close this year
  11. With that said we all need to start working on time
  12. Near a small country river the truck was unloaded in secrecy
  13. In all likelihood you will pass the class if you attend regularly
  14. Walking alone at night which can be scary in this area gives me a sense of peace
  15. I would like you to know however that you need to work much harder
  16. That house which is across the street belongs to my nephew
  17. The car which I had in Kansas City MO was stronger and faster than this one
  18. Undoubtedly I could finish the experiment because my colleagues helped me
  19. Coffee is stronger than tea so I don’t drink as much of it
  20. Despite Rue’s best efforts she could not keep the weeds out of her garden


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Parts of Speech

Verb: A word denoting action, occurrence, or existence

The President met with foreign diplomats on Tuesdays.

I will be presenting my research at the conference.


Noun: A word that names a person, place, thing, idea, animal, quality, or action.

Edwin, my brother, is a professional musician.

Students who study hard usually do well in Biology 101.


Pronoun: A word that takes the position of a noun and functions as nouns do.

He attended a luncheon in his honor on Wednesday.

Who went to lunch with you?


Adverb: A word that modifies verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs.

Susan reluctantly agreed to serve on my committee.

This beautifully illustrated manuscript is worth nearly $1 million.


Adjective: A word that modifies, qualifies, or describes nouns and pronouns.

A big brown dog jumped at me from behind the blue car.

The painting is truly spectacular.


Article: A type of adjective that is used before a noun: “The” (definite) and “A/An” (indefinite)

The bees that were on the flowers stung Kay.

A man gave us directions to the airport. (used with a consonant sound)

An article in the paper caught my attention. (used with a vowel sound)


Preposition: A word that establishes a relationship between its object and something else.

Jack sat beside Jill on the bus.

To get to Grandma’s house, we have to go over the river and through the woods.


Conjunction: A word that functions as a connector between words, phrases, and clauses.  

I work part-time although I don’t need money.

Alice needed to go to the dentist, so I drove her there.


Interjection: An exclamation expressing emotion.

Wow! Look at all the snow.

Ouch! That hurt.


Strategies for Identifying Parts of Speech

Verb: The word is probably a verb if:

  • You can use will, shall, can, could, may, might, must, should, or would in front of the word.


Noun: The word is probably a noun if:

  • You can make if plural or singular
  • You can make it possessive
  • You can place the words a, an, or the in front of it
  • It can follow a prepositional phrase


Pronoun: The word is probably a pronoun if:

  • You can substitute the word for a noun


Adjective: The word is probably an adjective if:

  • You can add er  or est  to the word
  • You can use more or most in front of it
  • You can use the words very or quite  in front of it


Adverb: The word is probably an adverb if:

  • There is an ly suffix
  • The word or phrase can be logically moved to another place in the sentence


Preposition: The word is probably a preposition if:

  • It is followed by a noun object


Conjunction: The word is probably a conjunction if:

  • The word serves as a connector between words, phrases, or clauses



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Gerunds & Infinitives

Gerund: a noun made from a verb by adding -ing.  You can use a gerund as the subject, object, or complement in a sentence.  You can make a gerund negative by adding “not.”

Reading helps you learn English (subject)

I enjoy reading. (object)

Her favorite hobby is reading. (complement)

He enjoys not working. (negative)

Infinitive: a noun made from the “to” form of a verb.  You can use an infinitive as the subject, object, or complement in a sentence.  You can make an infinitive negative by adding “not.”

To learn is important. (subject)

He wants to learn. (object)

The most important thing is to learn. (complement)

He makes a point not to learn. (negative)


Some Considerations:

Both gerunds and infinitives can be used as the subject or the complement of a sentence. However, as subjects or complements, gerunds usually sound more like normal, spoken English, whereas infinitives sound more abstract. Gerunds sound more natural and would be more common in everyday English. Infinitives emphasize the possibility or potential for something and sound more philosophical.

Riding my bike is really fun. (more casual)

What’s really fun is to ride my bike. (more formal or philosophical)

As the object of a sentence, it is more difficult to choose between a gerund or an infinitive. In such situations, gerunds and infinitives are not normally interchangeable. Usually, the main verb in the sentence determines whether you use a gerund or an infinitive.

He enjoys swimming.

He wants  to swim.


Even verbs that can use either a gerund or an infinitive often indicate different meanings depending on which is used.

He stopped smoking.

He stopped to tie his shoe. (this implies “in order to”)


Verb + Gerund


Verb + Infinitive
















get through















































be able































Kayla | 2016

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English Spelling

Below are four tips regarding why we spell words the way that we do in the English language.

1. Spelling was established while big pronunciation changes were underway:

Before the printing press came along, there was a lot of flexibility in English spelling. These are some of the ways beauty used to be spelled: bealte, buute, beauaute, bewtee, bewte, beaute, and beaultye. People did their own thing, trying their best to match up tradition with current pronunciations. But after the printing press came to England in the late 1400s, texts could be spread more widely, and printers started to standardized spelling. The unlucky thing for English spelling is that, during the very same time, huge changes in pronunciation were happening. Middle English became known as Modern English. When this period was over, people had stopped pronouncing the k in knee, the g in gnaw, the w in write, the l in talk, and the b in lamb. They had also stopped using the back-of-the-throat sound (represented by the ch in German words like ach!) that had been spelled by scribes with gh and had been pronounced in words like night, laugh, thought, and eight. But by the time all those sound changes were widespread, the spellings for those words had been established.

There was also a massive shift in the vowel system during that period. This change is called Great Vowel Shift, and by the time it was over, we had settled on spellings that reflected a mix of the old system and the new. So we get one spelling for many vowel sounds — ea in knead, bread, wear, and great — and multiples spellings for one vowel sound — due and dew, so and sew.


2. The literate class used French until the 15th century:

When the Normans invaded England in 1066, they brought their own words with them. While the general population carried on speaking English, French was used in universities and the courts, eventually leaving its imprint on the whole of English vocabulary. Most French words from this period were adapted to English pronunciation and spelling (attend, blame, enchant, flower, farm, join, lesson, minister, proof, etc.), but plenty retain traces of their origin that cause little spelling headaches today: people, jeopardy, muscle, marriage, autumn, etc.


3. It was cool to change spellings during the classical craze:

During the 16th and 17th centuries, a craze for the ideas and artifacts of antiquity caused some writers to introduce spellings for English words based on Latin and Greek, even when those words had never been pronounces according to those spellings. They thought it looked more educated and fancy to write February (on analogy with Latin Februarius) rather than Feverere, and receipt (like Latin receptum) rather than receyt. This is also how debt and doubt got their b, salmon and solder got their l, and indict got its c.

The re-Latinized words did have a very distant connection, through French, with the Latin words they were based on, even though they were borrowed into English without the extra sounds. But sometimes re-Latinizing introduced letters that had no business being there on any etymological grounds. That s in island, for example, never had any reason to be there. The word came from Old English iglund, and was spelled illond, ylonde, or ilande until someone picked up the s from Latin insula and stuck it in, making the word more complicated than it had to be.

Other scholars complicated perfectly clear words by making them look more Greek. So asma, diaria, and fleme became asthma, diarrhea, and phlegm.


4. We let words keep their spellings when we borrow them:

As presented in #2 above, English got a lot of words from French after the invasion of 1066. Around 700 years later, we willingly borrowed a whole slew of other words from French, many of them referring to the finer things in life. We let them keep their spellings, but we pronounce them our own way, so now we’ve got words like bouillon, casserole, vinaigrette, protege, ballet, bouquet, boutique, silhouette, etiquette, faux pas, champagne, and hors d’oeuvres.

Of course, French isn’t the only language we’ve borrowed from. When we see something we’ve got use for, we take it as is. Guerrilla, pinata, llama, angst, kitsch, fjord, Czech, gnocchi and zucchini have been welcomed into the fold. It’s the least English can do, as it spreads around the globe: Let the globe spread into English as well.


Kayla | 2016

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit Adapted from John Nelson

Noun Clauses

A clause is part of a complex sentence, except when it is an independent clause. A complex sentence uses one main clause and adds one or more dependent clauses; dependent clauses are noun, adverb, or adjective clauses.

What is a Noun Clause?

A noun clause is a dependent clause; it is a clause used as the Subject or the Object of a verb. As such, it plays the same role as a noun. Noun clauses are regularly introduced by pronouns such as whatever, whichever, who, whom, whoever, whomever, that, what, etc.

You must be able to ask the question, who or what?  and the response should be a clause.


(Object) You can eat whatever you find in my refrigerator.

(Subject) Whoever leaves last should turn off the lights.

(Subject) That you came on time today is an exception to the rule.

(Subject) What he says is totally unacceptable.

(Object) I will work with whomever is willing to work with me.


My favorite kinds of books are the ones that ________________________________________.

Whoever _____________________________________________ is going to get the best grade!

The best professors are the ones who ______________________________________________.

The worst professors are the ones who _____________________________________________.

The fact that _______________________________________________________ makes me happy.

What ____________________________________________________________ is making me cry!


Kaylan | 2016

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Conditional clauses are a type of adverbial dependent clauses that state a hypothesis or condition, real or imagined. Just like any other adverbial clause, a conditional clause can come before or after the independent clause on which it states a condition.

  • {If I have enough money,} I will buy a car.

{Dependent clause/ conditional} Independent clause/main clause


  • I will buy a car {if I have enough money.}

Independent/main clause {Dependent clause/ conditional}



Zero Conditionals/ Factual Conditionals (Real Conditional) are used for scientific facts, rules and laws of nature, or facts that are generally true. The condition always has the same result.

The tense in both parts of the sentence is the simple present.

  • If you heat water to 100 degrees, it boils.
  • Ice melts if you heat it.
  • If students do not have a user account, the college gives them one.



First Conditionals (Real Conditional) are used when we are thinking about a real possibility that may happen in the future.  We use the Present Simple tense to talk about the possible future condition. We use will + base verb to talk about the possible future result.

  • If it rains, we will cancel the picnic.
  • You will be late if you do not take the car.

Modals can also be used with first conditionals.

  • If you want to reduce weight, you should eat less meat.
  • If you finish the test early, you may leave.



Second Conditionals /Hypothetical Conditionals (Unreal Conditional) are used to express improbable or unreal situations that are unlikely to happen now or in the future.  We use the Past Simple tense to talk about the future condition. We use would + base verb to talk about the future result. Also, notice that we use were with I.

  • If I won a lottery, I would travel a lot.
  • If I were a millionaire, I would donate some of my money to charities.
  • If we were in New York, we would be able to go to the concert in Times Square.

We also use this structure to give advice.

  • If I were you, I would consult the manager.



Third Conditionals (Unreal Conditionals) are used to express a condition in the past that did not happen. That is why there is no possibility for this condition.

We use the past perfect in the impossible past condition and would have + the past participle for the result.

  • If I had won the lottery, I would have bought a car.
  • If she had worked harder at school, she would have gotten better grades.
  • If I hadn’t missed the bus, I wouldn’t have been late for class.

We can also use should have, could have, might have instead of would have.

  • If you had bought a lottery ticket, you might have won.



Mixed Conditionals are unreal conditionals whose time in the  if clause is different from the time in the main clause.

    • If we had looked at the map, we wouldn’t be lost. ( If clause -past, main clause -present)
  • If I had learned to swim, I might be in the pool now. ( If clause -past, main clause -present)
  • If Anna had gotten the job, she would be moving to Boston. (If clause-past, main clause –future)
  • If I had enough money, I would have bought that car we saw yesterday. (If clause-Present, main clause-past)
  • If I didn’t have an assignment to submit on Monday, I would have accepted the invitation to the party.

(If clause-future, main clause-past)

  • If I were going to the baseball game tonight, I would be very excited. (If clause-Future, main clause-present)
  • If she knew Chinese, the company would send her to Beijing. (If clause-Present, main clause-future)



Check your understanding!


  • Which sentence is more likely to be spoken by a presidential candidate?


  1.  If I become President, I will introduce a bill to change the social security system.
  2.  If I became President, I would introduce a bill to change the social security system.


  • Which sentence refers to a condition that happens all the time?


  1. If I don’t have a cup of coffee in the morning, I’ll fall asleep.
  2. If I don’t have a cup of coffee in the morning, I fall asleep.


  • Which sentence expresses an imaginary situation that did not happen?


  1. If Princess Diana had not been chased by the paparazzi, she would not have died.
  2. If I were a factory owner, I would improve the safety conditions of the factory.


Kaylan | 2016

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