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Commas: Skill in Context

In early Western written texts, commas were used for any kind of pause in thought so that written text could be read much as it would sound if the text were spoken. In modern written language, however, commas are actually used to signal different components of a sentence, even when there is no pause in the sentence were it to be spoken.

For more information about how comma use has changed, and for a solid recap of the rules for comma use today, take a look at journalist Miles Maguire's "Short History of Commas," or for a more in depth study, you may wish to read, as Maguire suggests, Pause and Effect by Malcolm B. Parkes, published by the University of California Press (1993). Be sure to check out the "Commas in Action" page in which Maguire provides explanations of comma useage in a short news article.


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