Comma rules simply explained

Enumerations, salutations, dates, places and times as well as main and subordinate clauses have clear comma rules that most Germans know – or? We at Mein RothStift will refresh your school knowledge and show you, with the help of examples, that comma splitting is not so difficult.

There are comma rules that are often forgotten. Participle and infinitive groups are prime examples of this. These can be called the losers of the German spelling reform, since many commas have become optional since then. However, correct punctuation is extremely important, which we would like to show you with the help of a popular example:

"Let’s eat grandpa!"
"Let’s eat, grandpa!"

If commas are forgotten, as in the first sentence, Grandpa could get nervous very quickly ..

Practice makes perfect!

Of course, learning the rules of the German language is not much fun. But if you keep at it and practice again and again, the correct use of punctuation will become more and more natural. Find supporters for this: With nice fountain pens, for example from Online, it is easier to practice. They are pleasant to hold, have a great, smooth ink flow, and the many beautiful and funny motifs immediately improve the mood in the language jungle. Write as much as possible every day: whether it’s a diary, greeting cards, or love letters – everything is suitable for practicing punctuation.

Separate words in lists with commas.

Rule 1: Enumerations

In enumerations, words of the same rank are separated from each other by commas. This is the easiest exercise in comma placement.

The sheep are named Becky, Lotta, Emma and Marta.

Important for the comma placement here is whether the adjectives are on the same level or whether it is a fixed linkage of noun and adjective, which is described in more detail by an attribute (according to the Duden, this occurs particularly often with adjectives that designate colors, materials, origin or affiliation). In the first case, the commas are obligatory, in the second, none are allowed. With the conjunction "and" can be used to find out what we are dealing with.

The curious, bright sheep (The curious and woke sheep) → The "and" fits in easily, so it is an enumeration that must be separated by a comma.

The white East Frisian sheep (The white and East Frisian sheep)→ Here, the "and" fits not, a comma must not be placed.

Rule 2: Dates, places and quotations

This comma rule helps make reading easier. The second comma is optional, however.

The sheep came on Friday, 01.06.(,) in the pasture on.
The shepherd from Dortmund, Kohlensiepenstrabe 2(,) is with them every day.

Rule 3: Main clauses

If they are in series of sentences, main clauses are separated by commas. This also applies to similar subordinate clauses, as long as they are not separated by "and"/"or" are connected:

The sheep went into the barn, they looked around, they started to eat.
Because they were hungry, because they were tired, because they were cold, the sheep went into the stable.

Commas are also used when one main clause is inserted into another:
The sheep went, I saw it clearly, into the barn at 5 p.m.

The comma is optional when two main clauses are separated by "and"/"or" are connected:

The sheep came into the stable(,) and they began to eat.

Commas facilitate the reading flow.

Rule 4: Separate the subordinate clause from the superordinate main clause

Why, when, how? Commas must be used to separate certain subordinate clauses from their superordinate main clause.

Causal sentence: (reason): Because it is raining, the sheep go into the stable.
Temporal clause (time, duration): The sheep go into the barn as long as it rains.
Concessive clause (counter-reason, qualification): The sheep stay outside, although it is raining.
Final clause (intention, purpose, goal): The sheep go into the barn to avoid getting wet.
Conditional sentence (condition): When it rains, the sheep go into the stable.
Modal sentences (manner): The sheep stay dry by going into the stable.
Consecutive clauses (sequence of preceding action): It was raining so hard that the sheep went into the barn.

Commas are also used for

Indirect interrogative sentence: I’d like to know if the sheep go into the barn when it rains.
Relative clause: The sheep that do not want to get wet go into the stable.

Rule 5: Conjunctions (connecting words)

You should always be careful with conjunctions in German, because there are no uniform rules here. However, opposite conjunctions are always preceded by a comma, for example:

  • But (He liked sheep, but not goats.)
  • Alone (He didn’t like goats, only sheep appealed to him.)
  • However (He liked goats, but sheep even better.)
  • Rather (He not only liked the sheep, rather he loved them.)
  • Yet (He did not like goats, but he loved sheep.)
  • But (Not only did he like goats, but he also loved sheep.)

A comma is also placed between parts of sentences that are made into a kind of enumeration by conjunctions, for example:

  • the … the (The more time he spends with the sheep, the better he gets to know them.)
  • partly … partly (Partly the sheep graze, partly they sleep in the shade.)
  • on the one hand … on the other hand (On the one hand, the sheep don’t like to get wet in the rain, but on the other hand, they are happy to cool down.)
  • not only … but also (Not only do I like to spend time with them, but my girlfriend does too.)
  • whether … whether (Whether young, whether old – all sheep are equally important to me.)

If statements are introduced by the following words, a comma is necessary:

  • that is (All sheep followed him, that is except Becky.)
  • namely (All the sheep except one, namely Becky, followed him.)
  • for example (Almost all sheep, for example Lotta, Emma and Marta, followed it.)
  • namely (One sheep, namely Becky, did not follow him.)
  • like (The trusting sheep, like Lotta, Emma and Marta, followed him.

Rule 6: Extended infinitives

We put a comma when an infinitive group is introduced by the following words:

  • at (He built the stable to protect the sheep from wind and weather.)
  • except (He had no other duties except to build the barn.)
  • instead of/instead of (He dozed in the afternoon instead of going to work.)
  • without (In return, he worked the next day without taking a break.)
  • as (He preferred to do a thorough job once, rather than having to constantly mend later.)

A comma is also needed when an infinitive group depends on a noun…

At Try, the sheep to catch, he fell into the grass.

… or be announced by an indicative word:

Think at, in the morning the sheep to feed.

Rule 7: Participles

Participles are derived from verbs and partly keep their properties, partly they take over properties of an adjective. The comma is optional when it separates an expanded participle from the clause:

Shivering with cold (,) the sheep went into the barn.

When the expanded participle is inserted or followed in the sentence, commas become obligatory:

The sheep, shivering with cold, went into the barn.
The sheep went into the barn, chilled by the rain.

Also, commas are used to separate two uninflected participles from the sentence when they are separated by an "and" are linked:

The sheep, trembling and bleating, went into the stable.

Rule 8: Dialogues and comments

The whole sentence has a stronger effect due to the placement of the comma and the separation of the exclamation, the agreement or disagreement or even the request.

Yes, I am a shepherd!
No, my sheep are not shy.
Please, can you help me with the feeding?
Wow, this sheep is very greedy.

Certain conjunctions introduce an obligatory comma.

Rule 9: Salutation

Appositions are always separated by commas in the sentence. It does not matter where the salutation is in the sentence.

Dear Sir or Madam, Please find enclosed my application documents for the apprenticeship as a shepherd.
The sheep, dear Mr. Muller, is very healthy and fit.

Rule 10: Apposition

An apposition is a substantive attribute that describes the relation word in more detail. If the apposition is within the sentence, it is enclosed by commas:

Becky, the oldest sheep, was the most trusting one.

Rule 11: Pronoun and adverb

If parts of a sentence are resumed by a pronoun or adverb, commas become mandatory:

His very first sheep, he had always liked the best.
In the sheep pen, there it is always warm and dry.

Rule 12: Adjectives

Are they through "and" connected, commas separate two trailing adjectives from the sentence:

All the sheep, young and old, came running every morning.

Create your own pen!

. That was quite a lot of input, wasn’t it? Internalize the rules by writing as much as possible, even by hand! How about, for example, a pen in your own design? Online makes it possible with the design competition: as every year, in 2018 you have the opportunity to submit your ideas for the most creative, beautiful and fun designs to the writing instrument manufacturer. A jury decides on the ideas and the winners can look forward to great prizes. Until 31. October you can join in. Participant cards can be found in stores – also in our store in Leipzig. We at My RothStift wish you every success.

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