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History[ edit ] In the 3rd century BC, Aristophanes of Byzantium invented a system of single dots distinctiones that separated verses colometry and indicated the amount of breath needed to complete each fragment of the text when reading aloud.
This is the origin of the concept of a comma, although the name came to be used for the mark itself instead of the clause it separated. The modern comma was first used by Aldus Manutius.
The comma performs a number of functions in English writing. It is used in generally similar ways in other languages, particularly European ones, although the rules on comma usage — and their rigidity — vary from language to language.
In lists[ edit ] Commas are placed between items in lists, as in They own a cat, a dog, two rabbits, and seven mice. Some English style guides recommend that a comma be used before the final conjunction and, or, nor in a list of more than two elements.
A comma used in such a position is variously called a serial commaan Oxford comma, or a Harvard comma after the Oxford University Press and Harvard University Pressboth prominent advocates of this style.
Such use of a comma sometimes prevents ambiguity: The sentence I spoke to the boys, Sam and Tom could mean either I spoke to the boys and Sam and Tom I spoke to more than three people or I spoke to the boys, who are Sam and Tom I spoke to two people ; I spoke to the boys, Sam, and Tom — must be the boys and Sam and Tom I spoke to more than three people.
The serial comma does not eliminate all confusion. Consider the following sentence: I thank my mother, Anne Smith, and Thomas. This could mean either my mother and Anne Smith and Thomas three people or my mother, who is Anne Smith; and Thomas two people. This sentence might be recast as "my mother Anne Smith and Thomas" for clarity.
I thank my mother, Anne Smith and Thomas. Because the comma after "mother" is conventionally used to prepare the reader for an apposite phrase — that is, a renaming of or further information about a noun — this construction suggests that my mother's name is "Anne Smith and Thomas". Compare "I thank my friend, Smith and Wesson", in which the ambiguity is obvious.
As a rule of thumbThe Guardian Style Guide  suggests that straightforward lists he ate ham, eggs and chips do not need a comma before the final "and", but sometimes it can help the reader he ate cereal, kippers, bacon, eggs, toast and marmalade, and tea.
The Chicago Manual of Style, and other academic writing guides, require the serial comma: If the individual items of a list are long, complex, affixed with description, or themselves contain commas, semicolons may be preferred as separators, and the list may be introduced with a colon.
In news headlinesa comma might replace the word "and", even if there are only two items, in order to save space, as in this headline from Reuters: Separation of clauses[ edit ] Commas are often used to separate clauses.
In English, a comma is used to separate a dependent clause from the independent clause if the dependent clause comes first: After I fed the cat, I brushed my clothes.
Compare this with I brushed my clothes after I fed the cat. A relative clause takes commas if it is non- restrictiveas in I cut down all the trees, which were over six feet tall.Summative Assessments.
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