I often find it confusing when to actually use commas, (i) and when not to. As a result, to prevent run-on or long sentences, I tend to put them in where I would pause in speech. Usually, this does not pose that many problems anymore, but in somewhat more complicated situations (ii) I still find myself wondering if the pause in speech would generate a comma in writing (iii) or not.

I know there are many questions about punctuation of this sort, but all I've found have been too specific to put me at ease. As a concrete example, I am struggling with the following sentence from my thesis:

(1) Dynamical properties usually mean properties of a system that are unchanged as the system progresses. For instance, this incorporates the properties of being fix, periodic, and stable, for points, but also as we shall see, for orbits.

Question 1: In (1), I do not really know how to use commas in the second sentence. Is the problem punctuation or rather formulation? Should I restate the whole sentence, or could commas be moved/removed to make it better? Initially, I even had a comma after 'also'; I am not really sure about this either. (To make things clear: 'fix', 'periodic', and 'stable' are words describing properties of the noun 'point', but also of 'orbits'.)

Question 2 (optional): Consider (i), (ii), and (iii) in §1 of this question. In (i), is the comma correct/wrong or perhaps correct but unnecessary? (Does it perhaps have to be 'and when not to use commas.', for it to have a comma?). In (ii), the sentence becomes very long, and I find my self wanting to insert a comma, but I feel it is wrong here, am I correct? In (iii) I am pretty sure there should be no comma, but exactly why is this? (Is it just to short?)

English is not my first language, but feel free to nitpick on as much grammar as you want throughout. I am eager to learn as much as I can.

2 Answers 2


There are many differences in speech compared to written text, especially academic writing. In particular, academic writing should be succinct such as excluding that when not used as a pronoun and limiting adverb usage. Phrases like as we shall see are common for speeches but generally frowned upon in text.

As for the commas, pauses in speech will not correlate to comma usage except for convention. Comma convention is a style issue; in your case with ESL, you might consider a reputable style guide such as The Chicago Manual of Style.

I'd write your passage like this:

Dynamical properties indicate properties of a system unchanged as the system progresses. This incorporates the properties of being fixed, periodic, and stable for points as well as for orbits.

  • In the context, I want to emphasize that this is only some instances. So I think I'll write: "Dynamical properties usually indicate properties of a system unchanged as the system progresses. For instance, this incorporates the properties of being fixed, periodic, and stable for points as well as for orbits". However, I lose the information in 'as we shall see' here. I guess this is a nice compromise though, and it definitely sounds better. Commented May 31, 2017 at 13:53

Foregoing the standard grammatical use of commas, there are cases where commas can be introduced for reasons other than grammatical correctness.

  • If you are writing a speech, you can place commas to make sure that the speaker will pause at the comma. This can be done on purpose (e.g. to let an idea sink in) or for practicality (needing to take a breath before the next lengthy statement)
  • If you are writing a transcript or novel (something someone said out loud), you can add commas where the person paused, even if there is no grammatical need for a pause. In this case, the main focus is not grammatical correctness, but rather an accurate rendition of the way it was said.*
  • Although a comma is not needed when listing two items; it can still be useful to add a comma in case the first item is very lengthy and therefore makes the sentence harder to parse.

    Our service includes taking you from the hotel when you unexpectedly need to leave for the airport, and giving you a hug.

Grammar is only one of multiple reasons why you would introduce a comma.

*For the same reason, a story may contain something like:

"I didn't gone and killed that man.", the defendant said.

You are not trying to be grammatically correct here, you are simply repeating what the man actually said.

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