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Before we go any further, you need to know that the rules you are about to learn are based on what's in the AP Stylebook. In other words, these are the rules that most newspapers and many magazines follow, but they do not conform in every instance with the rules that, for example, English professors or scholarly journals may apply. The most important deviation occurs with items in a series.

Keep in mind that in journalistic writing we are always concerned about saving space. As a result, your guiding principle will be that you should ONLY USE A COMMA IF YOU NEED TO. If none of these rules seems to apply, resist the temptation to add a comma just because “it felt like there needed to be one there.”

It may also help for you to consider that commas are generally used in one of two ways. First, they can serve to help connect different parts of a sentence. In those cases, they appear singly. But they can also serve to place certain parts of the sentence into the background. In those cases, they appear in pairs.

You may not understand the grammatical jargon that is used to state these rules. If you don't, click on the rule to see examples and a fuller explanation.

Rule No. 1: In a simple series, use a comma to separate the elements, but don’t put a comma before the conjunction. Rule No. 2: Use a comma to separate two independent clauses connected by a coordinating conjunction.
Rule No. 3: Use a comma following an introductory clause or prepositional phrase of four words or more. Rule No. 4: Use commas to set off modifiers that are not essential to the reader's ability to identify a particular person, place or thing.
Rule No. 5: Use commas to separate adjectives of equal rank. Rule No. 6: Use commas to set off words that add emphasis, shift attention or provide a fuller explanation (parentheticals, "yes," "no," names in direct address).
Rule No. 7: Use commas to set off participial modifiers that come at the beginning of a sentence or after the verb. Rule No. 8: Use a comma, carefully, to set off quotes or paraphrases.
Rule No. 9: Use a comma with hometowns, ages, years with months and days, names of states and nations with cities, affiliations and most large numbers. Rule No. 10: Use a comma to separate duplicate words to eliminate confusion.