Year 6 Language and Literature

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The Versatile Comma


You know how to use a full stop (.) at the end of a sentence that makes a statement, a question mark (?) at the end of a sentence that asks a question, and an exclamation mark (!) at the end of a sentence or phrase that is exclaimed or shouted out, like ‘My foot hurts!’ You have also learnt to use commas in certain situations, such as when you want to separate items in a list (but not between the last two items if they are separated by a conjunction like ‘and’ or ‘or’):

Lemonade is made from water, sugar and lemon juice.

You also need a comma when you write a sentence with a co-ordinating conjunction such as ‘bat’, ‘and’, ‘or’, or separating two phrases that could otherwise stand on their own:

Commas are used after the words yes and no:

Commas are used in addresses to separate the names of cities, counties and countries:

Commas are also used to separate subordinate phrases or clauses from the main clause in the sentence. For instance, look at the following sentence:

My best friend, Susan Scott, is coming to my house tonight.

‘Susan Scott’ tells us more about ‘my best friend’, but the sentence would still make sense if the words were removed. Therefore, we call it a subordinate phrase and we use commas to separate it from the rest of the sentence.

What is the difference between a subordinate phrase and a subordinate clause? A clause contains a verb, whereas a phrase does not. Subordinate clauses can be quite long, as in this case:

Don Quixote, a poor, skinny man who comes from an insignificant town somewhere in Spain, thinks he is a knight in shining armour.

Once again, the words in between the commas could be removed and the sentence would still make sense, so we use commas to separate them from the rest of the sentence. Can you see the verb in this part of the sentence? It is ‘comes’, so this is a subordinate clause, rather than a phrase.

Read more about punctuation in the Language and Literature chapter of What Your Year 6 Child Needs to Know.