Use your commas correctly in your IELTS writing

Commas are important in your IELTS writing exam

an IELTS comma
Many IELTS students and other people learning English seem to have problems with the use of the comma when punctuating sentences in English. It is really important that you try to use punctuation correctly in your IELTS exam.

“I’m going to eat everybody.”

If you say the above sentence, it will be quite frightening for those around you. Perhaps they didn’t realise that they had a cannibal friend. Imagine if you shouted it out. Everybody would run away screaming.

“I’m going to eat, everybody.”

Consider the difference the comma makes in the new sentence. Can you see that you are informing everybody that you intend to eat? You are informing those around you that you are going to eat. The comma is very powerful and can change the meaning of a sentence.

There are lots of rules to consider with commas and how to use them but they are not really difficult to understand. It’s important to remember the following points:

  • Long sentences don’t need commas just because they are long. The length of a sentence is not something that you need to consider when placing commas.
  • The rules for comma placement might seem mysterious but they tend to be placed in very predictable places.
  • IELTS punctuation - the comma

    “I didn’t eat the food, which was rotten.”

    “I didn’t eat the food which was rotten.”

In the first sentence, you didn’t eat any of the food. The food was rotten. This is an example of a non-defining relative clause. The comma tells us that what follows is extra information about the food. It refers to all of the food. It is similar to saying:

I didn’t eat the food. The food was rotten.

The second sentence tells us that some of the food was rotten and this was the food that you didn’t eat. Some of the food was fine. This is an example of a defining relative clause. There is no comma in this sentence. It is like saying:

There was food. Some of the food was okay. Some of the food was rotten. I didn’t eat the rotten food. I ate the good food.

A comma represents a pause. Try reading sentences with commas aloud and pause slightly at the comma. This should sound really natural. Remember that just because you pause in a sentence doesn’t always mean there is a comma!!
Can you explain the difference between these sentences?

I caught the first train which went to London.
I caught the first train, which went to London.

She answered the question which was easy.
She answered the question, which was easy.

Remember that commas don’t usually come between a subject and a verb or between a verb and that. You won’t find a comma after that. A comma is a pause and you wouldn’t pause in those places. Try reading the sentences below aloud and pause at the comma. It sounds unnatural, doesn’t it?

He, loves her.
I told him, that I didn’t want to buy his car.
She informed me that, she was resigning.

wrong use of comma in IELTS

Commas between adjectives

If we put more than one adjective before a noun, it is necessary to separate them with a comma.

He bought a cheap, blue car.

There’s a great explanation here.

Using a comma after an introductory phrase or clause.

Place a comma between any introductory phrase or clause and the rest of the sentence.

As I walked around the supermarket, I planned what I was going to eat that evening.

Notice how the comma creates a transition in thought between “walking around the supermarket” and “planning the meal.” Don’t put a comma into your sentence because it looks like you need it. Read the sentence aloud and make sure that it sounds natural.

Before question tags

This rule is quite easy, isn’t it?
You noticed the comma in the last sentence, didn’t you?

After sentence adverbs

If we use an adverb at the beginning of a sentence to say how we feel about the sentence, it is followed by a comma.

A: Commas are confusing.
B: Actually, they are quite easy to understand if you follow the rules.

A: Did he pass the exam?
B: Unfortunately, he failed it.

We don’t usually need commas with adverbs in other places in the sentence.

She sings that song beautifully.

Read more about adverbs here.

In your IELTS writing, you will use lots of phrases that introduce sentences. They are followed by a comma.

  • In addition, there are many people who suffer from sever back pain.
  • On the other hand, prices have fallen over recent years.
  • Finally, the facts need to be considered.

Certain words and phrases in the middle of our sentences also need a comma.

  • The problem, however, is easy to understand.
  • The books you read depend, to a certain extent, on your interests.
  • English is useful if, for example, you wish to study abroad.
  • The best way to practise your use of the comma is to actually do some writing. Of course, you need to have your IELTS writing corrected so that you can see whether you are using commas correctly. Do you want an online English teacher to correct your IELTS written work? Your writing will improve quickly if you take online English classes.