Q. How do I know if and when to use a comma to set off words near the beginning of a sentence?
A. Use a comma after elements that begin a sentence and also come before the subject and verb of the main clause. Examples: No, we won’t….Well, we may or we may not.
Also use a comma after an initial request or command. Examples: Look, this isn’t the first time it’s happened….Always remember, use a different font for headings.
Q. What about setting off words, phrases or clauses that aren’t vital to the meaning of the sentence?
A. Use commas here, as well. Example: Let’s call Claudia, who’s a technical wizard, to get help.
Q. Can I use a comma to separate a word, phrase or clause when I want an afterthought?
A. Absolutely. Example: Contact me as soon as possible, please….It’s not to late, is it?
Q. I need help understanding serial commas. I can never remember whether or not to use a comma before “and.”
A. Most experts use a comma before “and.” Here’s an example: I’d like to express my appreciation to Oprah, Sally, and Regis.
Some grammar experts say it’s okay to omit the comma before “and.” Example: “I’d like to express my appreciation to Oprah, Sally and Regis.” But it’s a bit awkward. Each of the three elements is meant to be a separate entity.
Best practice: if there are three or more items in a series, and the last one is preceded by “and,” “or,” or “nor,” use a comma before the conjunction and between the other items. If you’re uncomfortable with that, you can always rewrite the sentence (see sentence below for people who hate commas).
Correct: We need a CPU, monitor, and mouse to get started.
Correct: (For people who hate commas) We need a CPU and monitor and mouse to get started.
Awkward: We need a CPU, monitor and mouse to get started.
SUMMARY: Commas primarily set off nonessential expressions and separate elements.