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Wrong: In the classic movie "The Wizard of Oz", Dorothy is played by Judy Garland.
Why: The comma is outside the end quotation marks.
Right: In the classic movie "The Wizard of Oz," Dorothy is played by Judy Garland.
Why: When a quote requires a comma to set it apart, in this case because it ends a prepositional phrase, that comma always goes to the left of the end quotes. Always. It may seem strange, since the comma isn't technically part of the quote, but it's the rule. Plus, it looks so much tidier.
Wrong: He was born in January, 1990.
Why: There's a comma between the month and the year.
Right: He was born in January 1990.
Why: While month/day/year combinations do take a comma before the year, as soon as you remove the day from the equation, the comma drops away. A unit consisting only of a month and a year needs no comma to divide the elements, perhaps because there aren't two numbers side by side, which can invite confusion.
Wrong: 14 January, 1990
Why: There's a comma between the month and year in a "European style" date.
Right: 14 January 1990
Why: People who have grown up in the United States are used to placing a comma before the year (January 14, 1990). So they're tempted to do the same if they move to the increasingly common European method. In this method, though, in which the day comes first, the month second and the year third (most to least specific), no comma is needed, perhaps because the two numbers are separated by a word, eliminating any chance of numeral confusion.
Wrong: The president's son was named John F. Kennedy, Jr.
Why: The name suffix "Jr." is preceded by a comma.
Right: The president's son was named John F. Kennedy Jr.
# While suffixes like "Jr.," "Sr." and "III" have traditionally been preceded by commas, and some still see this as a gray area, the majority of grammarians now agree the commas shouldn't be there. When an identifying word or phrase has a comma before it, it typically means that word or phrase can be removed without changing the meaning. In the case of these name suffixes, removal results in a different meaning altogether. As such, these essential suffixes are not preceded by commas.
Degree suffixes, on the other hand, like "M.D.," "Ph.D." and "B.A.," do typically take preceding commas.
Wrong: Many men want to be the spy, James Bond.
Why: There's a comma between a noun and its restrictive form of identification.
Right: Many men want to be the spy James Bond.
Why: This has to do entirely with the meaning of the sentence, which is that these men want to be the spy named James Bond, not that the men want to be the spy. Which spy? When you place a comma before an identifier, phrase or clause, you're saying it can be removed from the sentence without changing the meaning -- that it's nonessential. In this case, "James Bond" is essential, so there's no comma before it.
Consider the following examples to see how commas can change a sentence's meaning:
Sentence: The children, who couldn't do the math problem, stayed after class for tutoring.
Means: All of the children stayed after class. (The "who couldn't do the math problem" bit is preceded by a comma, so you can remove it without changing the meaning.)
Sentence: The children who couldn't do the math problem stayed after class for tutoring.
Means: Only the children who were having trouble stayed after class.
Wrong: Some alcoholic beverages, such as, margaritas and daiquiris, can have as many calories as a burger.
Why: There's a comma after "such as."
Right: Some alcohol beverages, such as margaritas and daiquiris, can have as many calories as a burger.
Why: This one's plain and simple: It's never appropriate to put a comma after the transitional phrase "such us" (same with "including"). Other methods of introducing examples, however, such as "for example," "namely" and "for instance," are always followed by commas.
Wrong: She hated going to the dentist, and cried the whole way there.
Why: There's a comma between the two components of a compound predicate.
Right: She hated going to the dentist and cried the whole way there.
Why: In a sentence composed of a single subject ("she") and two predicate verbs ("hated" and "cried"), the verbs separated by a conjunction (like "and," "but" or "or"), there is no comma before (or after) the conjunction unless the subject appears a second time. If the subject does also appear in front of the second verb, you have a compound sentence, which requires a comma before the conjunction (She hated going to the dentist,and she cried the whole way there).
Wrong: The woman took her son, and her nephew to a course on safe driving.
Why: There's a comma before the conjunction joining compound direct objects.
Right: The woman took her son and her nephew to a course on safe driving.
Why: Just like with compound predicates, two compound objects ("son" and "nephew") joined by a conjunction ("and") do not take a comma before (or after) the conjunction. However, three or more compound direct objects would need commas, since they would constitute a list (The woman took her son, her daughter and her nephew to a course on safe driving).
Wrong: She hated going to the dentist, and, she cried the whole way there.
Why: There's a comma after a conjunction joining two complete sentences.
Right: She hated going to the dentist, and she cried the whole way there.
Why: While a compound sentence, consisting of two complete subject-verb pairs, does need a comma before the conjunction, it does not take one after the conjunction. A conjunction does, however, take a comma afterward if what immediately follows it is a nonessential clause (She hated going to the dentist, and, although she knew it would do no good, she cried the whole way there).
Wrong: I want to go, I want to stay.
Why: There's a comma between two complete sentences, but no conjunction. (Comma splice!)
Right: I want to go. I want to stay.
Also right: I want to go; I want to stay.
Why: When two complete sentences are separated by a conjunction, they are independent clauses and components of a single sentence. When there is no conjunction, however, they are simply complete sentences, and complete sentences are punctuated with periods, not commas (I want to go. I want to stay).
If you want two complete sentences to be independent clauses but don't want to use a conjunction, the correct punctuation mark is the semicolon (I want to go; I want to stay).
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