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.

  1. Share the surprising comma rule you discovered in this tip.
  2. Use it in a sentence.

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  1. viralslot77

  2. 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;)

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

    I’ve been using my commas wrong!

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.”

  7. 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.

  8. 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.”

  9. 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!

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

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

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

  12. 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!

  13. 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.

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

  15. 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!

  16. 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. 🙂