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Words of Wisdom

Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those, who do not write, compose, or paint can manage to escape the madness, the melancholia, the panic fear, which is inherent in a human condition.

— Graham Greene

The rules for comma usage in Spanish are very similar to those in English, but there are a few differences that should be noted.

1. Use commas to separate items in a series.

Ex.  Mi madre me compra ropa, juguetes, dulces y un libro.

Note that there is no comma before the conjunction (i.e., y) that ends the series. This rule also applies to the following conjunctions: eo, u, and ni. There may be exceptions to this rule when writing more complex sentences.

2. Use a comma to separate interruptions that clarify or add to the sentence’s main idea.

Ex. 1  El baloncesto, mi deporte favorito, se juega por todo el mundo.
Ex. 2   Es evidente, por tu nota, que no estudiaste mucho.

Commas tend to be used BEFORE and AFTER conjunctive or adverbial expressions such as efectivamente, en cambio, en ese caso, en fin, en realidad, es decir, no obstante, o sea, por ejemplo, por fin, sin embargo, etc.

Ex. 1   El tomate, en realidad, es una fruta.
Ex. 2   Houston, por ejemplo, es una ciudad grande de Texas.

4. A comma must be placed before propositions introduced by pero, mas, excepto and salvo.

Ex. 1  Tenemos mucha tarea, pero vamos al cine.
Ex. 2   Todos fueron a la fiesta, excepto ella.

5. A comma is used when a verb is suppressed, i.e. when it is implied but not stated directly.

Ex.   Luis fue a la universidad; Pedro, a la casa.

6. Use a comma if the sentence begins by directly addressing someone.

Ex.   Jorge, tienes que acabar tu tarea.

7. Use commas to state specific geographic places.

Ex.  Me fui de vacaciones a Nueva York, Nueva York.

8. Commas are used the same way periods are used in Anglo-Saxon languages when writing decimal symbols and vice versa. (This rule applies only in Spain.)

Ex. $ 2,000.50 (Two thousand dollars and fifty cents) = $ 2.000,50

9. A comma must never be placed between pero and an interrogative sentence or a parenthesis.

Ex. No sé qué va a pasar; pero ¿qué piensas tu?

10. Never place a comma between the subject and the predicate.

Ex. (Incorrect)  Luis, fue a la universidad.
Ex. (Correct)  Luis fue a la universidad.

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