Grammar rules, and more specifically, comma rules can be a stressful part of your ACT English prep.
But never fear! We’re going in-depth in this grammar lesson, with almost 20 minutes of tips and strategies to help you get a better handle on when to use commas on the ACT and beyond.
Just click on the embedded video below to watch our newest ACT resource, the “ACT Comma Rules | Grammar and Punctuation Prep” video.
…Or scroll down for a full video transcript. 🙂
What Will I See in the “ACT Comma Rules | Grammar and Punctuation Prep” Video?
In this free 17-minute video (better pull up a comfy chair!) our ACT expert Kat will give you a brief introduction, followed by literally everything you could ever need to know about commas for the ACT.
In this video you will learn:
The Basics: Using commas with series, dates, and geography!
Intermediate: How to use commas with quotations and names!
The Harder Stuff: Independent clauses and other clauses!
If you like the video, don’t forget to hit Like, and subscribe to the channel for more study tips. And if you have any questions about ACT grammar rules, write to us in the video comments section, and we’ll answer with advice! 🙂
“ACT Comma Rules | Grammar and Punctuation Prep” Full Transcript
Hey ACT students.
This is Cat at Magoosh and today we’re gonna talk about common rules you need to know for the ACT.
Now there are a lot of common rules out there but I have boiled them down into five general areas that you really need to commit to memory.
So I’m gonna switch over to Screencast and we’ll go over those in a little more detail.
I’m gonna give you some pointers on how to use commas in these particular situations, and this is not an exhaustive list.
It’s not an exhaustive coverage on commas.
Most of us learn this at some point or another, or most of us learn a good deal of this, but very few of us retain it.
It takes review, it takes practice and I’m gonna give you the brunt of what you need to know about commas.
So starting here with the basics.
One of the first things we learned about commas often in grade school is that they’re used to separate items on a list.
Specifically, if we have three or more items, these could be nouns, adjectives events, we use commas after each of the descriptions.
My best friend is tall, smart, caring, and a bit twisted.
And there is a comma after each one.
This comma here before the and, that’s an optional comma.
The ACT is not going to test you on it because some people leave it in, some people eliminate it.
I always include this comma, just I think it’s easier to remember that there is a comma after each of these descriptions.
Her backpack typically contains a phone, keys, practice gear, a binder, And random mug shots.
Same thing here, the only thing I wanna point is just noticing that practice gear, that’s two words, but it’s one concept.
And that’s why we don’t have a comma here.
But of course, we do in between each of these, basically these ideas, these items in a list.
She taught her dog how to beg for change, catch a frisbee and play dead.
Three basic things we’re looking at.
One action is begging for change, the other is catching a frisbee, the other is playing dead.
So commas in between each of these behaviors.
And also notice here that we, when we have our adjectives right before a noun.
So my tall, smart, caring friend is named Adrian, we don’t have a comma between the last adjective and the noun.
Next thing to go over here dates.
And I know a lot of you have pretty good ideas, pretty good sense of when you add commas.
When you are talking about a date of the year but you might something new, I learnt something new the first time I reviewed this after it had been many years.
So hang tight.
Basic idea, we use commas if we have three or more items in our reference to a date, as with the following.
I was born on February 29th, 2000.
There are three items.
A February, a date, and a year.
We have a comma.
Not between the first and the second but between the second and the third.
On February 29th, 2020, I will be five years old.
Here we still have the three items, month, date, and year, but we get this other comma here because we didn’t end the sentence.
And so we don’t get a comma between the first and the second.
We do between the second and third.
Then we also do after the third.
The only reason we didn’t do it up here is because the sentence ended.
But otherwise, we would have had a comma there as well, all right?
A lot of people don’t know that.
So there is a comma after the last thing in your date description, which is often the year.
My Sweet Sixteen will be in February 2064.
We do not have a comma here because we only have two items, not three.
We actually use commas in geographical locations with just two or more.
I am taking a road trip from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine.
What you see her is we have to comma between the city and the state even though there are only two terms her mentioned right.
What’s I think is a little bit more interesting or less commonly know is that we get this comma after the state, as well.
So it’s similar to what I’ve shown you in the last example.
We get this weird comma at the end of our little series.
But what’s different with geography is we only need two to kick off that whole trend.
So we get the one between the first and second and then we get another comma after the second term.
Here, we have [COUGH] Portland, Maine.
We have a comma here and the sentence ends.
Otherwise, we would have a comma here as well.
I might even drive drive from Maine to Montreal, Quebec, Canada, for a festival.
Same thing here.
I’m just giving you one extra term.
And I know we don’t usually say both Quebec and Canada it’s kind of understood one of the other, but for educational purposes.
And you see we have this, again, this kind of weird, at the end of our list of three.
And you also notice we don’t have a comma here.
If it said, I might drive from Portland, Maine, then we would have that comma.
But we just have to one term.
So none of the common roles kick in for this little bit.
Okay, fantastic, you’re still with me.
I wanna give you a little chance to comment and contribute yourself.
Your turn to practice.
In one to three sentences, write a comment down below the video about a trip you took.
Specify the location, use three or more adjectives in the sequence, like we looked at before.
And of course put commas in all the correct places.
So for instance, I might say, I went to the cold rugged majestic city of Anchorage, Alaska last year.
Or if I really wanted to show off, maybe I would say exactly what date I went.
And the sentence would just be plastered with commas, so that’s what I wanna see.
Lots of commas, lots of interesting cities or towns.
So now we’re moving onto some what I consider to be intermediate topics.
First here quotation use, we use a comma immediately before a quote if the sentence has an introduction, right before the quote, you’re gonna see an example in a second.
And the quote is what I’m calling here an actual utterance, okay?
That’s just words, so let’s look at examples.
My teacher began class by saying, today we’ll review some of Benjamin Franklin’s most notable sayings.
There is a comma here.
There is a comma here because this is the introductory part of the sentence.
We have a quote here, we can quote without these little introductions.
I mean we see that all the time.
Quotes can begin a sentence, but much of the time we have these little introductions and this aspect of is this an actual utterance.
What do I mean by that?
What I mean is that is this verb here that comes directly before the quote, is this something that was actually said, or done, or written by the quoted?
And just know that that verb here, has to be the verb that was taken by the person who is being quoted.
The saying, who did the saying?
And if that’s not clear hopefully it will be when I show you some other examples.
If there isn’t a verb directly before the quote that refers to the actions of the person being quoted, we either drop the punctuation entirely, or we use a colon.
But let’s say that we’re still in the Ben Franklin class.
Here’s an example of a short quote.
The student’s listening to the teacher, and maybe is thinking to his or her self.
I’m not a fan of the phrase time is money, which is attributed to Ben Franklin.
I put this in red here to just to point out there is no comma here.
Why is there no comma?
There is no verb here that is referring to Ben Franklin’s actions.
Time is money was quote by Ben Franklin but the phrase, that’s just a noun.
If she said, I’m not a fan of, or I really didn’t like it when Mr. Franklin said time is money then there would be a comma because said is a verb that was performed by the quoted.
But here we just have a noun.
So there is no punctuation at all.
Let’s look at what happens if we have a slightly longer quote.
Okay, by longer quote there’s no like super clear-cut, I don’t know, cutoff.
But usually about five words or more, around four or five words or more, you use a colon.
And so here’s the same student thinking to his or herself, it’s easier to appreciate the quote, wish not so much to live long as to live well.
And we don’t have a comma here because appreciate is not the actual action that was being taken by Ben Franklin.
And we do have a colon here, because we have a longer quote, okay?
So the chances that’s gonna come up on the ACT is probably maybe one in four.
It’s not tested on every test.
Some of the other things I’ve gone over are typically tests on every test.
So this is sort of icing on the cake, let’s get a grasp of the whole terrain here, cuz we still have some more topics to cover.
Okay, let’s talk about names.
So in the case of names, when we’re addressing another person directly maybe in a writing, a letter, an email or just talking to them.
What we do is we sandwich the person’s name and we do that with some combination of commas and periods, or it could be like exclamation marks or question marks, something at the end of the sentence.
And I’ll show you what it looks like.
I’m showing you examples of let say Adrian’s yearbook.
One classmate wrote, Adrian, it was fun being in class with you.
And we get a comma right after Adrian.
It’s not sandwich because this is the beginning of the sentence so we don’t put punctuation at the beginning of sentences.
Second, I know you’ll have a bright future, Adrian.
Comma here, sandwich.
Here, it’s the end of a sentence so we use a period.
And then if it’s in the middle of a sentence, thank you, Adrian, for being a decent lab partner.
And it doesn’t have to just be a name, it could be a title.
So you might say thank you professor for giving me an A, something like that.
It doesn’t have to be a person’s name.
The point is that you’re referencing directly the person that you’re talking to, and you’re using some kind of a title, their name or a substitute.
And now we get to clauses.
And this is definitely an abbreviated version of clauses, of commas, sentence constructions.
There’s so much more I could talk about.
I really tried to think about how to give you the nuts and bolts here for clauses.
And for those of you who really are just looking for review, I thought it might be helpful if I just showed you the main points right off the bath, because that might mean something to you right then.
It can be helpful to sort of know where we’re going here.
And the two things I’m gonna cover is just that when we have an independent clause and we wanna join it with another independent clause, we will have a comma if we also have what’s called a coordinating conjunction.
And there are seven of them, for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so, and I’m gonna go over this in more detail, but that’s rule one.
The second time we often see comma’s in sentences if we have what I’m just calling here an other clause, non independent.
It could be a dependent clause but it could be some other types of clauses as well.
And then following that a comma and then an independent clause.
In that case, we also have a comma.
In most other cases, we do not have commas.
There are some exceptions.
But when it comes to complex sentences and compound sentences, really, these are the two constructions.
So now, I’m gonna go over both of these in a little more detail.
An independent clause has a subject and a verb.
And it contains no fragments and it can work as a sentence on its own.
So check out these two independent clauses.
We’ve got I need to do homework.
I’d rather bake brownies.
These are both independent clauses.
They are both potential sentences in their own right.
They don’t have to be combines with anything.
They can work as their own sentences.
But because they’re kinda short, we often do like to combine them.
And even right now, even just kinda think, what word.
If you’re gonna put a word in between these two and make this all into one sentence, what word might you choose?
It’s pretty likely that you, as you were thinking about this, chose a word that is considered one of the coordinating conjunctions, which I’m gonna go over in the next slide here.
And if so, you would want a comma here, okay?
So the order is going to be independent clause, comma, coordinating conjunction, independent clause, period.
And let’s look at what those coordinating conjunctions are.
A lot of you know these as fan boys.
That’s kind of the little saying to pneumonic to help you remember.
They are works that are going to get plugged into the box there and there are only seven of them.
There are more than seven words that you could put in here that would work but there are only seven words that would require you to then use a comma.
And those four words are for, and, nor, but, or, yet and so.
Now what’s very important again, is that these are the only words that give us a comma.
And here I’m just going over some examples, so you can see how it looks plugged in.
I forgot his name, and it’s on the tip of my tongue.
I don’t have the book, for I left it on the bus.
I have a new job, so my schedule is packed.
And last, other clauses.
There is a huge universe full of all kinds of clauses with all kinds of names, but for the purpose of this video, I just want to give you the basics.
And so when I’m saying other clauses, I’m just referring to not independent.
I’m basically referring to fragments.
These are clauses that usually come before or after an independent clause in a sentence.
These clauses cannot work as a sentence alone, because they’re fragments.
Despite my best efforts.
Well, there’s no verb here so that’s arguably not even quiet a clause but it’s definitely a fragment.
So we’ve got this kind of part of a sentence here that is not a complete sentence.
Because I left it on the bus.
If we didn’t have the because, we would have an independent clause.
This because Is a problem because it’s referencing something that is not in the clause itself.
Because I left it on the bus, what?
What’s the rest of the thought here?
We don’t know, and so this little clause can’t stand alone.
We need more of a sentence to make it a complete sentence, a complete thought.
And then we have the same problem here with number three, until summer begins.
Until summer begins, what?
These are all fragments.
But all three of these can be combined with independent clauses and the comma and become a grammatically correct, and correctly punctuated sentence.
So before I showed you the independent clause, independent clause formula for when you have a comma.
This is the other clause comma independent clause construction.
And we do get this comma here, one of the few cases.
A lot of sentences where we think we should have commas actually don’t.
But this is a construction where we do have a comma.
We have some kind of fragment.
Despite my best efforts, I forgot his name.
And that’s an independent clause.
Because I left it on the bus, I don’t have the book.
Until summer begins, I have a new job.
And of course sentences can have more than just two clauses.
We can have very complex sentences or sentences that are considered both complex and compound, all different kinds of constructions.
So I’m showing you kind of the basic nuts and bolts of what a complex sentence might look like, but they can be more complex in this.
Okay, and that is a wrap.
Thank you so much for staying with me.
I just wanna recap really quick that we covered some information on series, dates, geography.
Remember the geography you’ll need to name two terms.
Quotations, names when you address people.
And then we looked at two different constructions of sentences that have commas.
Comma here and independent clause.
Independent clause and comma here, if we have an other clause followed by an independent clause.
But the most important thing is when in doubt, leave it out.
So if something does not fit the rules of when it’s supposed to have a comma, just assume it doesn’t have a comma.
I really hope you enjoyed these tips.
I hope you learned a couple new things.
And if you did find it helpful go ahead and hit the like button.
You can subscribe to this channel to get more tips.
We have more videos coming out all the time, we have a backlog of really interesting helpful videos as well.
So good luck with your studying and I wish you all the best on test day.
Looking for more ACT strategies?
Why not check out some of our other free ACT resources for more tips and tricks to help prepare you for test day?
- Your Magical Guide to Scoring a Perfect 12 on the ACT Essay
- ACT Strategies: The Pacing Drill Designed to Improve Your Score
- How to Get a Perfect 36 on ACT Math: The Jurassic Guide
Happy studying! 🙂
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About Molly Kiefer
Molly is one of Magoosh’s Content Creators. She designs Magoosh’s graphic assets, manages our YouTube channels and podcasts, and contributes to the Magoosh High School Blog.
Since 2014, Molly has tutored high school and college students preparing for the SAT, GRE, and LSAT. She began her tutoring journey while in undergrad, helping her fellow students master math, computer programming, Spanish, English, and Philosophy.
Molly graduated from Lewis & Clark College with a B.A. in Philosophy, and she continues to study ethics to this day. An artist at heart, Molly loves blogging, making art, taking long walks and serving as personal agent to her cat, who is more popular on Instagram than she is.
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