When to Use a Comma? It’s More Complicated Than You Think

Wrong
The program evaluates your computer system, and then copies the essential files to the target location.

Right
The program evaluates your computer system, and then it copies the essential files to the target location.

The difference? In a word: “It.”

As my colleague Paul Stregevsky explains, If we use a comma, we create a miscue that leads readers to expect an entirely new clause (“and it then copies the file”) instead of merely a new phrase (“and then copies the file”).

Here’s another example (from a bullet point on a resume):

Wrong
Maintained knowledge of store merchandise, and answered customer questions.

Right
Maintained knowledge of store merchandise and answered customer questions.

Right
I maintained knowledge of store merchandise, and I answered customer questions.

One more (note: these are both correct)

Right
She resolved all manner of complaints, and she devised time-out procedures.

Right
She resolved all manner of complaints and devised time-out procedures.

Here are the guidelines:

1. Clauses get commas. Phrases don’t.

2. To warrant a comma, a clause needs both a subject and a verb. (A “subject” is different from an “object.”)

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