To all you ACT/SAT 'test-preppers', you have a little time before December's test, if that is your next scheduled attempt.
When you have, say, roughly a month or more of time before an exam like the ACT and SAT, it's a good opportunity to seriously build content related skills, which often take longer to master than pure test-taking skills.
Both the English section of the ACT and the Writing And Language section of the SAT test students on their comma usage.
The number of comma usage rules vary depending on who you ask and how technical you want to get. Whatever the true number, if you can master just three or four usage rules you will do well on lots of comma questions in both exams
A very common comma usage tested in the ACT and SAT involves using two commas to set off a single word or phrase. Some of us tutors call the rule for this usage the "comma-comma" rule for this reason. This rule is really a combination of several or more other official usage rules for appositives, parenthetical expressions, interjections and transitional phrases, which in mid-sentence are "trapped" between two commas.
Let's look at some grammar and examples of comma-comma in action...
Definition: APPOSITIVES RENAME A NOUN WITH A SINGLE WORD OR PHRASE.
***Usage rule: APPOSITIVES THAT ADD NEW INFORMATION TO A SENTENCE BUT ARE NOT NEEDED FOR THE MEANING OF THE SENTENCE REQUIRE TWO COMMAS.
Example: William Shakespeare, the prolific English playwright, might not have existed.
Explanation: The appositive phrase "the prolific English playwright" renames Shakespeare, but the sentence can work just fine without the phrase, so phrase needs to be set off with two commas.
Example: Jenny, my cousin, visited yesterday.
Explanation: The two words "my cousin" rename Jenny. But the sentence works without these two words, so they are set off with two commas.
NOTE! In the example above, no commas are needed if you reorder "Jenny" and "my cousin". This new, reordered sentence would read as follows:
Example: My cousin Jenny visited yesterday.
Explanation: In this sentence "cousin" is not a precise enough subject and so the name "Jenny" is needed to complete the original meaning of the expression. If a word or phrase is needed then no commas should be placed around the appositive.
Another appositive comma-comma example: John, the night security guard, left work late.
Definition: PARENTHETICAL EXPRESSIONS ARE SINGLE WORDS OR PHRASES THAT ARE NOT NEEDED FOR THE MEANING OF THE SENTENCE.
***Usage rule: SET OFF TRANSITIONAL EXPRESSIONS, PARENTHETICAL EXPRESSIONS, AND CONTRASTING ELEMENTS WITH COMMAS.
Example of comma-comma with a transitional phrase such as "for example":
Maria, for example, was a non-traditional student because she graduated from college in her fifties.
Examples of comma-comma with various parenthetical expressions:
He is, in my opinion, the best free throw shooter on the team.
Taken as a whole, though, the evidence for the threat of another tornado touching down is scanty.
Jed, on the other hand, is a superb swimmer.
And the captain thought, therefore, that the storm was over.
Examples of comma-comma with a contrasting element:
The numerator is the top part of a fraction, not the bottom, and it needs to be simplified.
We hope these have proven to be some useful examples of comma usage. Study these examples above and note where you see other examples of the comma-comma rule on your next practice attempts for the ACT and SAT!!!