Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Accuplacer Next Gen: Commas and Colons

Resource guide for the Accuplacer Next-Gen exam

Directed Learning: Commas and Colons

Woman, without her, man is nothing. Woman, without her man, is nothing.

Commas do make a difference!

Most people have trouble with commas, semi-colons, and colons. The best way to remember when to use which one is how long of a pause you plan to take: commas being the shortest pause, periods the longest pause. For those looking for hard-fast, definitive rules, here are some useful guidelines for pesky punctuation.

COMMAS

After introductory clauses, phrases, or words that come before the main clause.

  • Before Sean ordered tickets online, he needed to know how much they cost.
  • At the lobby’s busy refreshment counter, Sean waited for his salted pretzel and licorice. 
  • Fortunately, his date didn’t want anything to eat because she was watching her weight.

Use commas between items in a list.

  • Sean and his date turned their cell-phones off as the lights dimmed, the house music ended, and the previews started.

Separate adjectives that are equal and reversible.

  • A mother removed her irritable, fidgety child from the theater.

Separate the clauses of a compound sentence with a comma before the coordinating conjunctions (FANBOYS: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so).

  • Sean’s date asked to change seats because a kid with a really big forehead was kicking her chair, so they moved up a row.

Nonessential words, phrases, or clauses must be set off with commas. Think of the information within the commas as not crucial to understanding the sentence. Also, transitional words within a sentence like however, therefore, then, consequently, besides, indeed, likewise, etc. are set off by a comma on both sides.

  • Pixar’s Toy Story 3, the movie that they went to see, was an animation delight.
  • Woody and Buzz, the main characters, are heroes to children everywhere.

SEMICOLONS

Use a semicolon between two sentences that are closely linked.

  • Sean really enjoyed his date’s company; she was both funny and beautiful.

Before transitional words such as however, therefore, nevertheless, for example, as a result and a comma after when there is an independent clause on both sides of these words.

  • She laughed uproariously during the movie; however, Sean didn’t seem to mind at all.

In place of a comma to separate items in a series when the items already contain commas or when the items are long.

  • Sean then met her family: her dad, who came from New Zealand; her mom, who likes underwater basket-weaving; and her brother, who has oddly shaped feet.

COLONS

The purpose of a colon is to introduce, define, or clarify something. Although a colon can be used either between two independent clauses (sentences) or between an independent and a dependent clause, it can follow only the independent clause; it may never follow a sentence fragment.

Use a colon when a second independent clause elaborates on the first one.

  • He checked the temperature: it was 100 degrees.

Use a colon to introduce a list or a quotation.

  • I enjoy creative hobbies: painting, writing, and singing.
  • She said the awful words: “I got you one just like it!”

Directed Learning Activity: Commas and Colons

Intro to commas

When to use a colon

Links to Other Resources