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A comma makes the different parts of a sentence clearer by telling the reader to take a short pause. Like all punctuation, its function is to eliminate ambiguity and prevent readers from having to read a sentence twice. It is used in three main ways.
Situations like this: “We look at four main areas: general insurance, life insurance and pensions, taxation and financial regulation, and investment.” Here, because some items include the word “and”, a comma is needed before the final “and” to make things clear. There is nothing wrong with putting a comma before the word “and” if it makes the sentence more clear.
If you are using several adjectives to describe a noun, separate them with commas: “a profitable, growing, successful company”. Here three adjectives are applied to one noun. But beware of putting in an unnecessary comma in a situation like this: “a profitable, growing limited company”. Here, the noun is “limited company” (in the sense of “limited liability company”) and it is being described by two adjectives. Putting a comma between “growing” and “limited” would imply that the company is limited in some more damning way than in its liabilities.
No one likes to read lots of very short sentences in succession, so why not link two together by using a comma followed by “so”, “but” or “and”? For example: “We help companies to improve their writing, and we begin by making sure they know what they want to achieve.”
NOTE: Do not link separate sentences solely with a comma: “Don’t just go straight for the cheapest, choose a computer that will last around five years.” Here the comma should be replaced with a semicolon or a dash.
We often want to give the reader extra information, a comment or an aside. This has to be marked out with commas at the beginning and end:
Taylor-made, in partnership with Acme Ltd, is working on a major new history of mousetraps.
Here “in partnership with Acme Ltd” is a bit of extra information – if you remove it the sentence still makes sense. However, you must be careful to put both commas in – otherwise readers can get very confused. Commas are often used this way to show someone’s position: “Robert Taylor, our managing director, said…” The phrase between the commas is sometimes called a “sentence interrupter”. Common ones are “for example”, “however” and “such as …”. They can, when used sparingly, add variety and interest to your writing.