Wednesday, December 9th, 2015...6:39 am

Professional Editor’s Corner: Canadian Commas

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I covered Canadian spelling and hyphenation in a previous blog. Up next is the comma. I will include all the major rules, even those we also use in American English, but I will make a note when they differ.

Let’s start with the heavy lifting.

When DO we use commas?

1. Introductory elements DO NOT REQUIRE a comma if they are fairly short EXCEPT when they include “now,” “then,” or “still” to prevent confusion about order.

Also DO use a comma to separate an introductory word or phrase from the rest of the sentence if the word or phrase represents a transition or a personal comment.

I admire the actress’s ability to emote and stage presence. Nevertheless, I’m not so fond of her singing voice.

Of course, the company cut overhead by scheduling employees 37.5 hours per week (rather than 40) to reduce the number of technically full-time staff members.

Generally speaking, Canadians use fewer commas for introductory elements (more information below, in the “do not” section).

2. DO use them for introductory adjectives or participial adjectives describing the subject.

I covered participial adjectives in a previous post. They are participles—present (e.g., running) or past (e.g., exhausted)—or participial phrases at the beginning of a sentence that describe the subject.

Unprepared for the exam, Sheila skipped math class.

3. DO use them for absolute phrases offering additional information.

I covered absolute phrases in a previous post (a noun and a participle or a noun and the perfect tense of the past participle).

Her dance routine memorized, Sarah walked confidently into the club.

The duet having been sung, Marsha and Todd left the stage.

4. DO use them for parenthetical phrases.

Parenthetical phrases are phrases that we could place in parentheses because they are not essential to the sentence. They contribute additional information.

The new Angelina Jolie vehicle, despite causing a strong vocal outcry from a handful of people, pleased most audiences.

5. DO use them for appositives.

An appositive is a fancy word referring to a word or phrase that REDEFINES an already defined subject.

Kurt Hummel, my favorite Glee character, invented divatude.

6. DO use them for phrases beginning with “that is,” “namely,” or “for example” (before AND after).

I love romantic movies, for example, Moulin Rouge and The Notebook.

7. DO use them when addressing a person or when using exclamations and interjections.

Readers, this section is perhaps the most important.

8. DO use one before etc.

Cats sleep, play with yarn, etc.

9. DO use them when separating contrasting clauses.

His assessment of my ability was harsh, but accurate.

I kept telling myself I would get over being kicked out of art school, but deep down I knew I never would.

10. DO use them for clarity.

In all, his ideas were uninspiring.

We need a comma after “all,” or we may wrongly believe his ideas are part of the introductory element (“in all”).

11. DO use one following a complete date (written American style) no matter where it appears in the sentence.

July, 11, 2008, is my anniversary.

If the date is British style, you do NOT need a comma.

Did you know that 11 July 2008 is my anniversary?

12. DO use one following a complete place name (city and state) no matter where it appears in the sentence.

Toronto, Ontario, is a nice place to visit.

Now the shorter list.

When DO WE NOT use commas?

1. DO NOT use commas after introductory adverbs and short phrases indicating time, frequency, location, or cause unless necessary to avoid confusion or add emphasis.

I can’t stress this enough—in Canadian English, less is more. Only use commas for introductory elements when absolutely necessary (when the phrase is VERY long, or readers won’t be able to understand where the phrase ends and the sentence begins otherwise).

By next week we will have finished the report.

2. e.g. (means “for example”) and i.e. (means “that is”) should be PRECEDED but NOT FOLLOWED by a comma.


American English requires two commas. Additionally, American English usually places these in parentheses AND uses a following comma.

I love punk rock bands (e.g., Operation Ivy, The Pixies, and Crass).

If you don’t want to use parentheses in American English, use “for example” and two commas.

I love punk rock bands, for example, Operation Ivy, The Pixies, and Crass.

3. DO NOT use a comma before the final element in a series unless needed for clarity (this final comma is also called the Oxford comma).

This is more Canadian than American. Some American writers follow this rule, but most don’t, and editors won’t (not if you select American English, unless you specifically ask).


The final rule I want to share belongs on its own list it’s so strange (for American English speakers).

Canadian English ALLOWS a comma splice in some situations.

You heard it. A COMMA SPLICE!

If we have two clauses that can stand alone, which we would normally separate with a semi-colon, we CAN (IN CANADIAN ENGLISH) use A COMMA instead if they are SHORT and PARALLEL.

I’ll talk, you listen.

I think, therefore I am.

If you think that’s strange, just you wait for what’s next!

Know more:

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