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Common Errors Made by Non-Native Speakers of English Punctuation: The Comma

April 16, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 145

When it comes to using the correct punctuation in English, it can be very confusing for some nationalities. In German for example, every noun has a capital letter, while in English only proper nouns have capital letters. Even more confusing for non-native speakers of English are the rules, or lack of them, for commas, which seems to be a problem for most students of English.

So when do we use the comma in English writing? For the most part the rules for using the comma are fairly flexible. The comma is there to show that there is a pause, which would normally occur in spoken English, and is better if it is used sparingly. However, there are some times when we must use the comma in written English and these are:

When using relative clauses. If the relative clause is non-defining, then we must use the comma before the relative pronoun. For example: Titanic, which is a famous film about a ship sinking after hitting an iceberg in the Atlantic, won a lot of awards. My father, who will be 75 next June, still goes skiing every winter.

We also need to use the comma after time clauses - when, if, as long as, after etc. For example: If it doesn't rain, we'll have a picnic; When I am 25, I'll inherit £25,000 from my grandmother; As long as I study hard, I should pass my exam; After taking his exam, John intends to travel around Australia for several months until his money runs out.

In addition to these, we have to use a comma after a reporting verb when using direct speech. For example: John said, 'l am going to Italy in June.' David shouted, 'Stop thief!' Sarah asked David, 'Do you know what time the film starts tonight?'

The comma is also used after adverbials such as however, on the other hand, nevertheless, furthermore and moreover. For example: I am very good at French. My German, however, is appalling; I am very good at French. On the other hand, my German is appalling; Simon would like to go to university to study French. Furthermore, he would like to travel around the world before the age of thirty.

On a lighter note, there is even a joke about commas: What's the difference between a cat and a comma? A cat has claws at the end of its paws, a comma is a pause at the end of a clause.....

Although using commas can be difficult, if you remember when you really must use them, you won't have too many problems. Just keep trying.

Sarah Short is the Principal of Tudor Hall School of English, based on the beautiful south coast of England. Sarah has worked in some of the best EFL schools in the area and has a long history of success in running her own schools - both in the UK and abroad. In addition to being a CELTA qualified teacher, she is a young learner specialist of note.

To find out about the courses available at this unique school, visit

Source: EzineArticles
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English Punctuation


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