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Commas
I have travelled all over Europe, but I have never been to Africa.

Commas

The comma, as a mark of punctuation, is one of the most misused punctuation marks. This 11-plus English quiz will give you some practice in using the comma. Here are a few rules to help you:

  1. Use a comma to separate the elements in a series, e.g. 'He was tall, dark and handsome'. The final comma before the 'and' can be left out or included, but whatever you decide - be consistent. This comma actually has a name: it is called the 'Oxford' comma. Note: a comma is not used between the last adjective and the noun or pronoun.
  2. Use a comma with 'and, but, for, nor, yet, or, so' to connect two independent clauses: an independent clause is a sentence that is part of a sentence, e.g. 'I don't like music much, but I love jazz music'. The independent clauses are 'I don't like music much' and 'I love jazz music'.
  3. Use a comma to set off introductory elements, e.g. Running towards the bridge, he suddenly heard a loud explosion.
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1.
In which of the following sentences has a comma been wrongly used or omitted?
The headmaster, the mayor, and the school governors were at the meeting.
The headmaster, the mayor and the school governors were at the meeting.
It was a long, hard, tiring journey.
He left the scene of the crime, and tried to forget that it had happened.
This breaks Rule 2. 'tried to forget that it had happened' is NOT an independent clause: there is no subject, so you don't need the comma. On the other hand, 'He left the scene of the crime, and HE tried to forget that it had happened' has two independent clauses
2.
In which of the following sentences has a comma been wrongly used or omitted?
Turning towards his sister, he noticed that she was still sleeping.
He searched for his pen in the desk, in the wardrobe, and in his pockets.
He struck the ball as hard as he could and he looked intently to see where it would land.
He likes reading thrillers, detective novels, humour and romances.
This breaks Rule 2. A comma is required before the 'and'
3.
In which of the following sentences has a comma been wrongly used or omitted?
Here is the list of tools required: a spanner, a hammer, pliers, and a screwdriver.
Unable to control her curiosity, she quietly entered the old deserted house.
He was wearing a brand new, expensive, shiny, top hat.
It was very cold yesterday, but we still went skiing.
This breaks Rule 1. 'top hat' is a noun, so the comma preceding top is wrong: a comma is not used between the last adjective and the noun or pronoun. Be on the lookout for adjectives that have lost their purely adjectival meaning and become part of the noun itself, e.g. flowering shrub, fine comb, and shaving brush
4.
In which of the following sentences has a comma been wrongly used or omitted?
Crossing the road, he was knocked down by a bus.
When he at last got home, he suddenly realized that he had forgotten his briefcase at the office.
There were many different sorts of meat on the table: beef, pork, venison, and poultry.
I have not seen any bears wolves or deer in the mountains this year.
This breaks Rule 1. 'bears wolves or deer' should be 'bears, wolves, or deer' OR 'bears, wolves or deer'. Incidentally, although the first choice is correct, be careful that you don't write something silly like 'Crossing the road, the bus knocked him down': this would mean that the bus was crossing the road. In order to avoid such blunders, remember this: the introductory bit refers to the subject of the sentence. In this case, 'he' was crossing the road NOT the 'bus'!
5.
In which of the following sentences has a comma been wrongly used or omitted?
Told that she was no longer required she broke down in tears.
I am not superstitious, and I don't believe the house is haunted.
She made a cake with sugar, flour, eggs, milk and butter.
She made a cake with sugar, flour, eggs, milk, and butter.
This breaks Rule 3. The introductory element 'Told that he was no longer required' needs a comma after 'required'
6.
In which of the following sentences has a comma been wrongly used or omitted?
Not knowing what to do, the soldiers decided to return to the fort.
He knew that she was wrong, but he didn't have the heart to tell her.
There were a few interesting things in the drawer: an old watch, a compass, a kaleidoscope and, a revolver.
Relaxing in the warm bath, I was suddenly startled by the telephone ringing.
This breaks Rule 1. The final comma needs to be before the and OR left out
7.
In which of the following sentences has a comma been wrongly used or omitted?
Having survived for three days without food, they began to lapse into delirium.
He walked in, sat down, opened his paper, and began to read the sports news.
He looked in the house in the yard and in the barn - but he couldn't find the little red rooster.
You are going to tell me the truth, or I shall report you to the police.
This breaks Rule 1. The elements in the series are 'in the house', 'in the yard' and 'in the barn'. This should be written as 'in the house, in the yard, and in the barn' OR 'in the house, in the yard and in the barn'
8.
In which of the following sentences has a comma been wrongly used or omitted?
It was a wild, and green jungle.
It was a wild and green jungle.
It was a wild, green jungle.
It was a wild green jungle.
This breaks Rule 1. When you have only TWO adjectives, any of the other choices can be used instead of the first choice
9.
In which of the following sentences has a comma been wrongly used or omitted?
Having seen the film twice he soon fell asleep.
He loves her deeply, but he doesn't show it.
Having finished work, he decided to pay his sick aunt a visit.
He lies, cheats, swears and steals.
This breaks Rule 3. A comma is required after the introductory bit: 'Having seen the film twice,'
10.
In which of the following sentences has a comma been wrongly used or omitted?
I have travelled all over Europe, but I have never been to Africa.
I have travelled all over Europe but I have never been to Africa.
Being adventurous by nature, I volunteered for the expedition.
He loves it when you flatter him, and he loves talking about himself.
This breaks Rule 2. A comma is required before 'but' (between the independent clauses): 'I have travelled all over Europe, but I have never been to Africa'
Author:  Frank Evans

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