Calendario de enero (how to use commas in Spanish)

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The vocative case is used to address a person. In Spanish, as in English, we have to mark the noun off with commas:

        ¿Pedro, puedes pasarme ese bolígrafo azul? (Peter, can you pass me that blue pencil?)

         No lo sé, Anna. (I don’t know, Anna.)

The importance of the comma becomes more obvious if we look at a couple of alternatives, which have a very different meaning:

        ¿Me regalas un perro abuelo?

        ¿Me regalas un perro, abuelo?

While the first example involves that the child is asking for an old dog that is a grandfather, in the second example the boy is asking his grandfather to buy him a dog.

In general, the rules for comma usage in Spanish are very similar to those in English, but there are a few differences that should be noted.

1. Use commas to separate items in a series, but not before the conjunctions: e, o, u, and ni. Notice, that there may be exceptions to this rule when writing more complex sentences.

Comimos sopa, pescado y un delicioso postre.

2. Use a comma to separate interruptions that clarify or add to the sentence’s main idea.

Tamara, que acaba de ser mama, vive en una preciosa casa cerca de aquí.

3. Commas tend to be used BEFORE and AFTER conjunctive or adverbial expressions such as efectivamente, en cambio, en ese caso, en fin, en realidad, es decir, no obstante, o sea, por ejemplo, por fin, sin embargo, etc.

El tomate, en realidad, es una fruta.

4. A comma must be placed before propositions introduced by pero, mas, excepto and salvo.

Está lloviendo mucho, pero vamos a salir a pasear de todas formas.

Todos fuimos a la fiesta, excepto mi hermana.

5. A comma is used when a verb is suppressed, i.e. when it is implied but not stated directly.

Carlota fue a Sevilla; Jorge, a Valencia.

6. As we have already seen, use a comma if the sentence begins by directly addressing someone.

Javier, tienes que ordenar tu habitación.

7. Nevertheless, never place a comma between the subject and the predicate.

(Incorrect) Yolanda, fue a la universidad.

(Correct) Yolanda fue a la universidad.

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