Comments on the Comma

By Gary Blake | May 19, 2017

By far, the trickiest punctuation mark in claims writing is the comma.

There are eight comma rules, which we didn’t enjoy in high school, and knowing them will give a boost to every letter you write. Every day, thousands of comma mistakes are made in claims letters and a good number of them are “untouchable” because they reside in template letters that have not been reviewed since the Clinton Administration – or earlier.

Commas separate:

  1. Items in a series. The hotly debated serial comma separates items that might blur together in a cursory reading (“I need paper, a pen with black ink, and an eraser.”
  2. Two or more adjectives preceding a noun. (e.g., “We sat through a dull, repetitive meeting.”)
  3. Nonessential elements or defining terms. (e.g., Robert West, a man of his word, was there.”) A nonessential element can be deleted without changing the meaning of the sentence.
  4. Parenthetical words and phrases. (e.g., “John, therefore, went home.”)
  5. Introductory terms such as “well, “yes,” “no”, “however,” and “moreover” as well as introductory phrases such as, “When Sheila talked, Tom listened.”
  6. Contrasting statements. For example, “It’s time for action, not words.
  7. Geographical elements, the date and the year, and also state, country, or year from any text following it. For example, “New York, New York” as well as “March 10, 2017” and “The January 15, 2017, meeting went well.” A lot of people are surprised to see the comma after the full date, but it belongs there – unless it occurs at the end of the sentence.
  8. Before and, but, or, nor, for, so or yet when they join independent clauses. For example, “The outline was good, but the final proposal was too long.”

Now, there are nuances and some exceptions that space prevents me from adding. However, I want all of my readers to have complete information. So, I will send my two -color 8 1/2″ X 11″ poster, PREVENT SEPARATION ANXIETY: USE THE COMMA, to any of you who request one. Just send your name, title, company, and address to me at, and I will send you a poster – free.

image of Gary Blake

About Gary Blake

Gary Blake is director of The Communication Workshop, offering claims writing webinars and seminars to claims professionals throughout the US, Bermuda, Canada, and the UK. Blake is the author of The Elements of Business Writing (Pearson Education), used at more than 100 insurance companies. He has written about claims writing for a number of industry publications. His e-mail is More from Gary Blake

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