If this were a boxing match, the paying public would surely have got their money’s worth. But the fight’s not over! That’s right – today we’re back with part seven of our comma guide, and we’ll be looking at commas that replace words (!?) and commas with adverbs. Ding ding ding.  

Commas Replacing Words

Apostrophes replace letters, but since when have commas replaced entire words? Although you probably won’t find this use of commas in academic writing, it is used ubiquitously in newspapers and novels. Let’s look at a few examples: 

David ran the marathon in 2 hours and 46 minutes; John, in 3 hours and 10 minutes.

The magazine had finally reached the entire population of Kent; the podcast, half of the Dover district.  

The comma in the first example, located after John, replaces the words ran the marathon. From the context, the reader understands what has been omitted, and we’ve chosen to use the same sentence structure to help the reader make that logical jump. In our second example, the comma replaces the verb phrase had finally reached – again we mirror the same sentence structure to help the reader make the quantum leap.  

A vital element to these sentences is the semi-colon (;) – without it, the second clause (John, in 3 hours and 10 minutes) would be incorrect. We’ll cover semicolons in more detail later, but for now, we can call the semi-colon a connector of two independent thoughts that would be connected by a comma if a conjunction (such as and, so, but) was present. 

Remember – using commas to replace words is not advisable in academic writing. It does, however, show fluency in the more creative areas of writing.  

Conjunctive Adverbs 

Know your adverbs from your verbs? If verbs do and are, adverbs tell us in what mannerby how muchwhen or where. I’m quickly brushing over the topic, but you get the idea. Specifically, conjunctive adverbs and commas are partners in crime; conjunctive adverbs often introduce (remember comma guide two), interrupt or conclude (albeit rarely) main clauses and are, therefore, offset with commas. Similarly, conjunctive adverbs that crop up in the middle of sentences are often surrounded by commas. 

These tricky words act a lot like conjunctions (andbutso), and they can also act a lot like adverbs. When used as conjunctive adverbs, they connect ideas together in a slightly more complex way than conjunctions. But conjunctive adverbs can also act like regular adverbs, which is why grammar guru Dr Wheeler called conjunctive adverbs “pathetic, confused little creatures.” Here’s a comprehensive list of the most popular conjunction adverbs, but for now we’ll be using howevermoreover and therefore in our examples.   

Remember, putting a comma alongside such words depends entirely on how they’re used in a sentence. Example time: 

However far you try to run, I’ll find you.   

I will find you; however, it might take me some time.  

In our first example, however is used as a plain old adverb – it modifies the adverb far. In our second example, however is used as a conjunctive adverb – it introduces a new thought/idea that contrasts the previous thought. When we use these special adverbs as conjunctive adverbs, we usually follow the conjunctive adverb with a comma.

Let’s use moreover as another example.   

The test match saw Alastair Cook open the batting for the final time; moreover, he hit the highest final test innings in history.  

Unlike howevermoreover can’t really modify in the way a traditional adverb can. Moreover is always used as a conjunctive adverb to introduce an additional point that supports the previous point, so it’s best to use it at the beginning of the sentence or independent clause. Therefore is our next example.  

I see therefore I must have eyes.     

The dragon is hungry; he has, therefore, just eaten my clothes.  

We use therefore to introduce the logical result of something that has just been mentioned. The strength of the interruption determines if we use commas. In the first example, therefore does not break the natural flow of the sentence (in fact it’s necessary for the sentence to function); however, in the second sentence, therefore is a non-essential element – it signposts the logical result of a hungry dragon for the reader.  

As mentioned, the semicolon often accompanies our conjunctive adverbs. The quick rule for this is to ask yourself: “could this clause function as a sentence?” If the answer is yes and you’re using a conjunctive adverb, then you’ll likely need either a semicolon or a full stop. If the conjunctive adverb is introducing, interrupting or concluding a sentence that would function just fine without it, use commas.  

The man ran towards the house; (or full stop) however, he did not ring the doorbell.     

The man was, however, wearing his climbing gear.  

That concludes part seven of our comma guide. Thanks for sticking around if you’ve been with us for the whole comma quest. Remember to sign up for email campaigns to ensure you don’t miss out on useful content like our comma guides. 

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