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ACT English Practice: Commas

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  • 0:01 Commas
  • 0:48 Commas & Non-Essential…
  • 3:11 Commas in Lists
  • 4:47 Commas & Introductory Clauses
  • 6:14 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elizabeth Foster

Elizabeth has been involved with tutoring since high school and has a B.A. in Classics.

Comma trouble got you down? Test your skills with some guided practice and become a certifiable comma hero before you tackle some questions on your own in the quiz.

Commas

By day, they're unassuming punctuation marks. They set off appositive phrases. They separate items in lists. They mark a pause in the sentence or separate a dependent clause from an independent clause.

But commas aren't just any old punctuation. By night, they also save lives. For example: 'Let's eat Grandpa' vs. 'Let's eat, Grandpa' - that little comma is the only thing standing between cannibalism and a loving family dinner.

In this lesson, you'll practice with commas by playing comma superhero: train your powers, save the day, and win the final showdown all with this one tiny mark of punctuation. So grab your sword, your wand, or your light saber, and let's get going.

Commas & Non-Essential Information

To start out with, our future comma hero needs to get his superpowers by learning to focus his energy through the ancient crystal. Unfortunately, though, the evil World Government is trying to round up all the ancient crystals, to make sure nobody will ever be able to develop superpowers again. In this scene, our future hero is trying to get an ancient crystal from a jaded old mentor who hasn't decided if he wants to help out the young upstart or just surrender his crystal to the World Government.

'Surrendering your ancient crystal, to me, is the only way to save the galaxy,' insisted the future hero.

But are the commas in this sentence correct? What are the commas around 'to me' doing there? This pair of commas is setting off 'to me' as information that isn't necessary for understanding the sentence. It's just a little interjection to emphasize that this is the hero's opinion. But is it really unnecessary information, to whom the mentor is giving up the crystal? No: it matters a lot! After all, just 'surrendering your ancient crystal' could mean surrendering it to the World Government. So, how can you edit this sentence to make it totally clear who's supposed to get the crystal?

'Surrendering your ancient crystal, to me, is the only way to save the galaxy,' insisted the future hero.

(A) 'Surrendering your ancient crystal, to me is the only way, to save the galaxy.'
(B) 'Surrendering, your ancient crystal, to me, is the only way to save the galaxy.'
(C) 'Surrendering your ancient crystal to me is the only way to save the galaxy.'
(D) 'Surrendering your ancient crystal to me, is the only way, to save the galaxy.'

The answer's coming up.

The answer is (C). Remember that the commas were bracketing 'to me' as unnecessary or optional information. We want to make it clear that this isn't actually optional at all, so we'll just take out the commas. Now, 'to me' isn't just an interjection meaning 'in my opinion;' 'me' is the indirect object of 'surrender.' The entire grammatical structure of the sentence changes just by taking those commas out.

Commas in Lists

With his impressive knowledge of punctuation, the hero persuades the old mentor to give him the crystal and takes on his new identity as Captain Comma. Now he's ready to start saving the day, starting by thwarting a maniacally evil chef. Can you spot where Captain Comma needs to intervene?

For most of the day, the chef eats cooks and works on his recipes.

(A) eats cooks and works on his recipes
(B) eats, cooks, and works on his recipes
(C) eats cooks, and works on his recipes
(D) eats, cooks, and works, on his recipes

First of all, let's take a look at what's going wrong in the original. Yikes: the chef is eating the cooks. Paging the hero!

Do you have an idea how you could fix this? Which answer choice is grammatically correct but not quite so violent? The answer's coming up.

The correct answer is (B). This is really a question about how to write lists with commas. You can see that in answer choice (B), this crazy cannibal chef has been tamed by two commas that turn the sentence into a list. 'Cooks' becomes a verb, instead of the object of 'eats.' Now instead of eating the cooks, he's eating, cooking, and working on his recipes: the sentence just lists three things the chef did, separating them all with commas.

Commas & Introductory Clauses

Well done, Comma Hero! But now it's time for one last test: what would a hero be without a final battle? Take a look at this sentence:

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