Misplaced Commas

January 18th, 2024 in Grammar by April Michelle Davis 0

We all know to use commas in lists, addresses, and dates, and some of us may have been told in grade school to use a comma wherever there is a pause. However, the rules aren’t as simple as this. As a result, the comma all too often gets abused through overuse. Here are a couple of tips on when not to use a comma.

  1. Essential Phrase = Nonessential Comma

    Take a look at the following sentence:

The food critic, Jean Arthens, hated the dish.

To many readers, this sentence may seem correct; however, the commas are actually unnecessary. “Jean Arthens” is an example of a restrictive appositive as “Jean Arthens” is a noun that renames and restricts the meaning of “food critic. The food critic’s name is essential in order for the reader to know which food critic hated the dish.

If the sentence were to be rewritten as, “Jean Arthens, the food critic, hated the dish,” then commas would be appropriate, for the restrictive or essential information comes first while the nonrestrictive/nonessential phrase comes second.

Other examples of sentences which include nonessential phrases or appositives include:

Scientists who study the earth’s structure are called geologists.

The movie The Matrix was a huge success.

  1. The Comma Splice

    The “comma splice” refers to the act of linking two or more independent clauses with a comma but without a coordinating conjunction—for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so.

Example: The sun is high, put on some sunscreen.

This mistake can easily be fixed either by adding a coordinating conjunction or by using a semicolon.

The sun is high, so put on some sunscreen.

The sun is high; put on some sunscreen.


Try It!

Correct the sentences that include unnecessary commas.

  1. The sun was shining, however, it was too cold for swimming.
    2. Her friend, Laura, is going to the party.
    3. Sandra’s home, which used to be a barn, is fully furnished.
    4. Drivers, who are reckless, make the roads less safe.


  1. The sun was shining; however, it was too cold for swimming; 2. Her friend Laura is going to the party; 3. Correct; 4. Drivers who are reckless make the roads less safe.