Grammar Education: How to Use Commas

Posted By on March 9, 2011

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how to use commasI love Facebook. I’m on it all day long when I’m on my computer, and I check it when I’m on my iPhone outside of the office. However, the quick updates sometimes make for lazy typing. But wait…is that laziness or ignorance? I’m starting to think it’s the latter. I’m talking about how commas are just ignored on Facebook. Perhaps people just don’t know how to use commas.

Poor commas. They used to be one of the most OVERused punctuation marks with people using them way too often. These days, though, it seems as if people are forgetting these little hooks that add clarity to your sentences and make reading easier. Nowhere on Facebook is this more evident than on the wall of your friend who’s celebrating a birthday.

One of the best things about Facebook is its ability to connect us with friends far and wide. With that, we get these great reminders of upcoming birthdays. This is where I see the biggest evidence that people don’t know how to use commas. Here are two examples where the comma is MIA:

Happy birthday Joe!
Thanks Amy!

In each instance, there should be a comma prior to the name. Why? These are fragments, meaning they’re lacking a subject, verb, and object—which add up to a complete sentence. If you read them as if the missing part is replaced, you may get:

I say happy birthday, Joe! (correct comma)
Joe thanks Amy! (still no comma and correct)

Unless you’re speaking in third person (“George is getting angry!”), you probably won’t speak the way the second is written. Instead, you’ll say “Thanks, Amy!” which is correct.

Grammar is confusing; there’s no doubt about it. But if you just remember that a name in a fragment like this typically requires a comma, you’re more likely to remember how to use commas. One way to do that is to put the name first, which is pretty clear (kind of as in a letter):

Joe, happy birthday!
Amy, thanks!


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