There are two important rules you (as a German native speaker) need to know about commas:
1 If you’d use one in German, you probably don’t need one in English!
2 There are far fewer commas in English than in German.
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Here are the two most important uses of commas in English:
1 Put a comma between each item in a series.
The comma before “and” at the end of the series is common in AE, but is usually left out in BE, unless it clarifies the meaning. Here are three examples.
AE: Our cars come in the colors blue, green, yellow, and orange.
BE: Our cars come in the colours blue, green, yellow and orange.
AE and BE: You can combine the colours blue and grey, yellow and green, and pink and purple.
2 Put commas around material that would not change the meaning of the sentence if you left it out.
- The woman, who was singing, was called Joan.
If you wrote, “The woman was called Joan,” the meaning of the sentence would not change. Compare it to the next version, where there are no commas.
- The woman who was singing was called Joan.
The phrase “who was singing” is essential in this sentence, because it defines Joan as the one woman (among a group of women) who was singing.
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