[ kom-uh ]
/ ˈkɒm ə /
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the sign (,), a mark of punctuation used for indicating a division in a sentence, as in setting off a word, phrase, or clause, especially when such a division is accompanied by a slight pause or is to be noted in order to give order to the sequential elements of the sentence. It is also used to separate items in a list, to mark off thousands in numerals, to separate types or levels of information in bibliographic and other data, and, in Europe, as a decimal point.
Classical Prosody.
  1. a fragment or smaller section of a colon.
  2. the part of dactylic hexameter beginning or ending with the caesura.
  3. the caesura itself.
Music. the minute, virtually unheard difference in pitch between two enharmonic tones, as G♯ and A♭.
any of several nymphalid butterflies, as Polygonia comma, having a comma-shaped silver mark on the underside of each hind wing.


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Fill in the blank: I can’t figure out _____ gave me this gift.

Origin of comma

1520–30; <Late Latin: mark of punctuation, Latin: division of a phrase <Greek kómma piece cut off (referring to the phrase so marked), equivalent to kop- (base of kóptein to strike, chop) + -ma noun suffix denoting result of action (with assimilation of p)
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What is a comma?

The comma (,) is a punctuation mark that indicates a pause in a sentence, sets off words, phrases, or clauses, separates items in a list, and performs many other functions.

The comma is one of the most versatile and commonly misused punctuation marks in English. It serves many different functions in English, such as:

  • Indicating a pause in speech: I was walking down the street and, um, I was hit with a pie by a clown. 
  • Separating items in a list: I put my shirts, pants, and socks into my suitcase.
  • Separating adjectives: LaShona has a big, hairy dog. 
  • In numbers larger than 999: I bought a computer for $1,300.
  • In dates and addresses: I visited Des Moines, Iowa, on October 17, 2005.

There are many more jobs commas do. For more detailed information on how to properly use commas, read our thorough guide on them.

Why is comma important?

The first records of the word comma come from around 1520. It ultimately comes from the Greek kómma, meaning “a piece cut off.”

Were you surprised that the word comma only dates back to around 1520? In fact, commas themselves aren’t that much older and can be traced back to the first printing of books during the mid-1400s. Before this, writers would use dots and dashes to indicate pauses or separations. The early writers, such as those in ancient Rome and Greece, didn’t use any punctuation at all and all of the writing was scrunched together into large blocks of letters.

Did you know … ?

The comma that is used before the final item in a list is called the Oxford comma (sometimes also called the Harvard comma or the serial comma). This particular comma has surprisingly been a source of debate, and some writing styles, such as the Associated Press, don’t require it to be used. However, omitting the Oxford comma can sometimes lead to some pretty silly sentences.

What are real-life examples of comma?

This funny magazine cover shows why it is important to use commas.


Because they have so many functions, commas confuse even native English speakers.


Quiz yourself!

True or False?

You can end a sentence with a comma.

How to use comma in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for comma

/ (ˈkɒmə) /

the punctuation mark(,) indicating a slight pause in the spoken sentence and used where there is a listing of items or to separate a nonrestrictive clause or phrase from a main clause
music a minute interval
short for comma butterfly

Word Origin for comma

C16: from Latin, from Greek komma clause, from koptein to cut
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for comma


A punctuation mark (,) used to indicate pauses and to separate elements within a sentence. “The forest abounds with oak, elm, and beech trees”; “The bassoon player was born in Roanoke, Virginia, on December 29, 1957.”

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.