In the writing community, a vividly discussed question is where to place references to footnotes in the text.

Some authorities have already given precise answers to this question:

The Chicago Manual of Style and the Modern Language Association suggest to place footnotes at the end of a sentence, following the punctuation mark (except for dashes). [CMOS, MLA]

In general, footnotes tend to disturb the reader’s concentration on the red line of the text. Therefore, footnotes should not appear after single words, but rather at the end of phrases or sentences.

This article collects rules on how to place commas (and semi-colons) in English.

Between independent clauses

Independent clauses are always separated with a comma, when they are joined by for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so (in the sense of as a result):

The night was cold, and the sky was clear.

Two clauses are independent, if each of them can (syntactically) stand alone.

Dependent and independent sentences

When an independent and a dependent/subordinate phrase appear in a sentence, a comma is used if the dependent sentence precedes  the independent sentence. A subordinate clause is generally indicated by a subordinating conjunction such as after, although, as, as soon as, because, before, by the time, even if, even though, every time, if, in case, now that, once only if, since, though, unless, until, when, whenever, whereas, while.

(1) [dependent before independent clause] If  I pass the test, (then) I will give a party.

(2) [dependent after independent clasue] I will give a party if I pass the test. 

(3) [unnecessary word/particle] Well, then I should go.


Connectives in a sentence-initial position are always followed by a comma.Some examples of connectives are as a result, consequently, furthermore, hence, however, moreover, so, therefore, thus.

(1) The sun goes down. Therefore, we should go back home.

(2) The tree was diseased. So, he was not strong enough to withstand last week’s storm.

Comma as separator in lists

Clearly, the comma should be used to separate items in a list. Whether to place a comma before the final and or or is a matter of choice. If the list items are longer and contain commas, a semicolon may also be used as list separator.

(1) [Comma] They bought bread, two bottles of milk(,) and some cheese.

(2) [Semi-colon] Three questions arise: whether to leave the house, even if it is raining; whether to go shopping at the mall or at the small shop around the corner, if at all; and whether to take along an umbrella.

Quotations/Reported Speech

Direct speech and and inquit (“he say”, “she claims”,…) are separated with a common, when they appear in one sentence. If the inquit follows the direct speech part, the comma appears before the closing quotes; if the inquit precedes the direct speech part, the comma appears in front of the closing quotes.

(1) [inquit before quotation] Erich Honecker said, “Nobody intends to build a wall.”

(2) [inquit after quotation]  “Nobody intends to build a wall,” said Erich Honecker.

(3) [inquit between quotations] “Nobody,” said Erich Honecker, “intends to build a wall.”

(4) [inquit, quotation, and other phrase] Erich Honecker, “Nobody intends to build a wall,” and smiled.

Separate repeated words

If the same word (or number) is immediately repeated, a comma should separate them to avoid confusion:

(1) Whatever you say, say it clearly.

(2) In 1998, 101 people died in the train disaster near Eschede.

Commas in dates

When listing two parts of a date (e.g., December 30, August 1980, June 1), do not use a comma to separate them. When listing more than two parts of a date, use a comma:

(1) [no comma] On January 6, three children rang at my door.

(2) [use comma] The bombardment of Baghdad started on March 20, 2003.

Commas and numbers

A comma may be used as thousands separator (e.g., in 5,172,455), but not in four-digit years (cf. 1997 vs. 10,000 B.C.), zip codes (e.g., Beverly Hills 90210), or page numbers.

A comma may split related units (also in an abstract sense)

(1) [feet and inches] I am five feet, three inches high.

(2) [act and scene] The most exciting part was was act 2, scene 3.

(3) [page and line] See also page 179, line 12.

Commas and names, places, etc.

Names are separated from academic degree by a comma:

I would now like to welcome Mr. Turner, PhD.

Similarly, cities are separated from counties/states/… by comma:

I come from Stuttgart, Baden-Württemberg, Germany.



Use a comma after the greeting in an informal letter, use a colon for formal letters.

(1) [informal] Dear Dave,

(2) [formal] Dear Mr. Burton:

Use a comma after the closing words:

(1) [informal] Yours, /Love,

(2) [formal] Sincerely, /Regards,


  • [1] The 5 Uses of a Comma in English:
  • [2]
  • [3] Commas in English –

The verb compare can be used with both the preposition to and the preposition with, but the notion of the comparison is different.

Compare to is used to stress similarity, whereas Compare with stresses the difference.

(1) We compare our results to X’s results.

(2) We compare our results with X’s results.

In (1), we may expect that X achieved similar results, while in (2) X’s results are probably significantly better/worse. Another example in one sentence:

In summary, we achieved the same accuracy, compared to X, but comparing our running time with X’s algorithm, our algorithm.

To remember when to use which preposition, think of the following example; being similar takes a to – not a with:

Our results are similar to X’s results.


  • [1] More details Daily Writing Tips

The determines each and every are often used synonymously; in fact their semantic meaning is subtle, yet important. Both words refer to the members of a group of things/people. This post summarizes when to apply which determiner best.

Each lays stress on individuality. To emphasize this even more, we may append single:

  • Each participant received $50.
  • Each single participant received $50.

Every is used in the singular, but it is used in a collective sense and generalizes the group’s members. Every is closer to all than each is.

  • Every citizen is free.
  • Every child goes to school.
  • Every soldier must be strong and brave.

Also, every indicates repetitions:

  • Every year, the Christmas holiday starts with huge traffic jams.
  • He visited me in hospital every second day.


For pairs (i.e. groups of two), only each may be used:

  • Each of his toes was sunburnt.


(with some better examples, I guess)

  • [1] > Each,every
  • [2] > Eand and every

Something that I often confuse while writing is the correct usage of that and which, even though there are some simple rules to determine which of them is appropriate.

A relative clause starting with that cannot be removed without altering the meaning of a sentence (restrictive/defining clause). In contrast, the pronoun which conveys some additional information (nonrestrictive/non-defining clause).

As clauses starting with while are not mandatory, they are always enclosed with commas.


  • The bike that is broken is in the garage.
    There may be several bikes and only the broken one is in the garage.
  • The bike, which is broken, is in the garage.
    There is only one bike and this bike is broken.

See here for some more examples


  • [1] That vs. Which on