Don’t Be Confounded by the Comma


It’s just a little comma, but it can be confusing! The placement of a comma can completely change the meaning of a sentence.

In today’s tip, we’ll focus on ways you properly use a comma using the Chicago Manual of Style.

Commas used after city and state

Which is correct?
A: I attended a university in Tahlequah, Oklahoma for three years.
B: I attended a university in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, for three years.

Correct answer is B.

Chicago Manual of Style: When writing the name of a city followed by its state, most writers know to include the comma between the two, but often overlook the comma that’s required after the state name.

Commas used after a month-day-year date

Which is correct?
A: She left the house on May 1, 2014, to have lunch with a friend.
B: She left the house on May 1, 2014 to have lunch with a friend.

Correct answer is A.

Chicago Manual of Style: A complete date (consisting of a month, day, and year) requires a comma after the day and after the year.

Including a comma between a month and year

Which is correct?
A: She returned from her trip in August 2014 for the wedding.
B: She returned from her trip in August, 2014 for the wedding.

Correct answer is A. (This one surprised me!)

Chicago Manual of Style: If you’re writing just a month and year (without a day), don’t separate them with a comma. And don’t include a comma after the year.

Placing a comma outside quotation marks

Which is correct?
A: My favorite movies are “Forest Gump”, “The Village”, and “Wizard of Oz.”
B: My favorite movies are “Forest Gump,” “The Village,” and “Wizard of Oz.”

The correct answer is B.

Chicago Manual of Style: Put a comma that follows a closing quotation mark inside the quote (in other words, before the ending quotation mark).

In today’s tip, I used the Chicago Manual of Style, but if a publication requires the Associated Press Style Handbook there may be some differences.
These are essential tools for your writing library. You can purchase a Chicago Manual of Style Quick Tip version or an Associated Press Style Handbook online easily.

YOUR ASSIGNMENT IF YOU CHOOSE TO ACCEPT
  1. Share the surprising comma rule you discovered in this tip.
  2. Use it in a sentence.
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Comments

  1. Shelley Summerville: November 14, 2018 at 9:48 am

    The last one! I don’t think I have ever used it correctly. Even after reading the reasoning I still feel awkward doing it;)

  2. Jamie Broadnax: November 9, 2018 at 5:34 pm

    I’ve been using my commas wrong!

  3. The comma inside quotation marks was the one I was iffy on.
    The movies, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Lord of the Rings,” and “Princess Bride” are favorites in our home.

  4. The month and year tripped me up. I bounce between Chicago and AP style when writing for different magazines and newsletters. Proofers are worth their weight in gold!
    In September 2017 my husband and I went to Canada, France, Monaco, and Germany.

  5. I was surprised by placing a comma within the quotation mark.

    Some of my most favorite Christmas movies are “The Preacher’s Wife,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and “Elf.”

  6. You have blown my mind with the comma after the state when using the city before the state. I definitely knew the city part.

    I moved from Prescott, Arizona, to Gaylord, Michigan, and rediscovered the need for snow boots.

  7. Placing a comma outside of quotation marks was a surprise for me.

    This summer my family and I saw, “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again,” “The Meg,” and “Incredible 2.”

  8. I was tripped by a couple of your tips! The first one that surprised me was the month-date-year rule.

    Hurricane Florence arrived in my town on Friday, September 14, 2018, and I pray God’s presence and power remain my focus!

  9. Movies I enjoy watching are, “The Water Horse,” “Trolls,” and “Sing.” Can you tell I have young grandchildren?

  10. Kimberly Vernetti: September 13, 2018 at 4:29 pm

    I am from Decatur, Alabama, and this tip totally surprised me!

  11. I struggle remembering the rule for listing movies for example. That the quote goes before the last quotation mark. I need to order the Chicago Manual of Style! Great reminders!

  12. I was not familiar with the month and year placement of a comma. AP Style and Chicago Style… I guess when you reach a certain age you have experienced a lot of styles. Comma example sentence:

    In July 2018 I attended my first She Speaks Conference.

  13. Between the month and year?! WHAT?? haha

  14. I was a little fuzzy on the month-year comma. Now to give it a try: I received a CMS as a gift in December 2016. I went straight to the comma section. 🙂 It’s a great resource!

  15. Commas are hard. I always forget the rule about following the date or state with a comma. One rule I learned in school was to put a comma where you would naturally pause in speaking. That doesn’t always work well. 🙂