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When do you use a comma?

This page reflects guidance from the sixth edition of the Publication Manual.

Go to 7th edition guidelines


Use a comma

between elements (including before and and or) in a series of three or more items.

  • the height, width, or depth
  • in a study by Spencer, Girard, and Singh (2010)

to set off a nonessential or nonrestrictive clause, that is, a clause that embellishes a sentence but if removed would leave the grammatical structure and meaning of the sentence intact.

  • Switch A, which was on a panel, controlled the recording device.

to separate two independent clauses joined by a conjunction.

  • Cedar shavings covered the floor, and paper was available for shredding.

to set off the year in exact dates.

  • April 25, 2011, was the correct date.


  • April 2011 was the correct month.

to set off the year in parenthetical reference citations

  • (Harper, 2012)
  • (Nguyen, 2009, demonstrated....)

to separate groups of three digits in most numbers of 1,000 or more

Do not use a comma

before an essential or restrictive clause, that is, a clause that limits or defines the material it modifies. Removal of such a clause from the sentence would alter the intended meaning.

  • The switch that stops the recording device also controls the light.

between two parts of a compound predicate

  • The results contradicted Smith's hypothesis and indicated that the effect was nonsignificant.

to separate parts of measurement

  • 8 years 2 months
  • 3 min 40 s

(adapted from the sixth edition of the APA Publication Manual, © 2010)

Last updated: August 2020Date created: May 2009
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