Comma, comma, comma, comma, comma chameleon. You comma go, you comma go, oh.
Nah. That was a really bad one. Really.
Join me in breaking the barriers on the comma usage before one of the most overused adverbs in English, “really.”
When is a comma necessary before “really”?
A comma is placed before “really” when it introduces parenthetical expressions, or when it appears after a parenthesis inserted mid-sentence. Also, a pre-comma is necessary when it is used as a disjunct, also known as a sentence tag, at the end of a sentence. Thirdly, a comma is also inserted before “really” when it is used in listing serial items. However, we need not place any commas at all when it is used as an ordinary adverb to modify verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs in a non-parenthetical manner.
The meaning, function, and usage of the adverb “really”
Some experts refer to adverbs as “rag bags” or “dustbins” for garnering the first place award on the most-recyclable-part-of-speech contest.
Why so? This is because one too many adverbs can be formed from adjectives by simply adding the suffix -ly.
The same is true with the word “really” in which -ly is simply added to its adjective form real.
Apart from that, “really” is also an adverb considered to be quite overused because of its flexibility in modifying other words, phrases, and clauses.
It can even be used either as a single-word exclamatory or interrogative device, on top of its intensifying and actualizing functions.
Its exclamatory function can be done when we want to express surprise, while its interrogative function is used when we want to confirm the validity of a claim.
We may also use “really” to intensify or strengthen the meaning of a verb, adjective, or another adverb.
And, it can also be used to convey the meaning of “in fact,” “as a matter of fact,” or “actually” in our statements.
Put simply, “really” is quite a jack of all trades in the English language world, which definitely has some pros and cons.
“Really” is also one of the first few adverbs young learners acquire because of its simplicity, flexibility, and applicability.
However, as our linguistic skills advance, we may also tend to get confused with the most basic functions of words, not to mention proper punctuation.
So, without further ado, let’s now dig right into the core of punctuating “really” with a pre-comma.
Comma before “really” in utmost detail
Since “really” is quite flexible, it can move around the sentence pretty freely.
This means that the pre-comma is very much dependent on how the word functions within the sentence.
A few guidelines dictate the insertion of a comma before “really,” which can be explained through the lenses of stylistics and syntax.
Although both of these disciplines may seem a little intimidating, that is not actually the case.
The only thing we need to bear in mind about commas is that they do serve a very simple purpose in texts, which is to lessen a sentence’s obscurity.
Taking this into consideration, let’s now look at some examples where a pre-comma is necessary.
When “really” introduces a sentence-medial parenthesis
A parenthesis is a stylistic device that enables a writer to insert interruptive thoughts that add meaning to written ideas.
This device is similar to the natural way we insert comments or opinions in the spoken language.
Parenthetical elements, when represented in texts, need comma encapsulation to segregate their grammatical dispensability, as well as to signal an emphatic effect to readers.
A parenthetical remark can be a word, a phrase, a fragment, a clause, a sentence, or even a whole paragraph, which is applicable in the less formal register.
It can also appear anywhere in the sentence depending on how the writer intends to convey and present his or her ideas.
In a nutshell, this simply means that when “really” is used to introduce a parenthetical expression or even as the only parenthetical element, commas are always necessary.
The first example below illustrates the parenthetical use of a fragment introduced by the adverb “really” in the middle of a sentence.
As she runs into the woods, really exhausted from being sleep-deprived, all she could think of is her daughter’s sweet face waiting for her to come home.
In the sentence above, the parenthesis conveys a strong mid-sentence interruption, and thus, necessitates comma encapsulation.
Also, the removal of the parenthetical fragment will not hurt sentence grammaticality, which is another reason why commas are necessary.
When “really” introduces a sentence-final parenthesis
Now, let me give you another example of a parenthetical use of “really” but at the end of the sentence this time.
Still, a pre-comma is essentially placed for the same reasons stated in the last subsection.
As she kept running, all she could think of was her daughter’s sweet face waiting for her to come home, really oblivious to the impending danger.
The parenthetical fragment introduced by “really” in the example sentence aims to provide more information about the object in the preceding clause.
This is, again, a stylistic way to represent the intended information which also adds some flavor to the entire statement.
Using parenthetical elements, therefore, helps in painting a more realistic description of the scenario aimed to be conveyed, as opposed to simply denoting grammatical completeness.
When “really” comes after a parenthesis
Now that the essence and function of parenthetical expressions have been laid out, understanding this part should be easy.
In the last subsection, it was explained that commas are necessary for separating and highlighting additional, grammatically-removable details.
This also means that when “really” subsequently follows a mid-sentence parenthesis, then the closing parenthetical comma automatically precedes it.
Esther, desperately wanting to have a boyfriend, really started doing that crappy ritual you told her.
“Really” is used in the sense that it denotes the meaning of “in fact” or “in actuality” as opposed to its intensifying function in the example.
When “really” is a sentence-final disjunct or sentence tag
The second to the last case that requires a pre-comma insertion to “really” is when we use it as a sentence-final disjunct or a sentence tag.
Technically, this is just another example of a parenthetical element attached at the end of a sentence, which only aims to add some rhetoric effect.
In syntax, however, we may refer to it as a disjunct whose job is to modify the whole sentence.
Here’s an example to illustrate that.
That spooky morgue story I told you last week happened again to one of the guards last night, really.
Using “really” as a disjunctive element is also a way for a writer to express his or her thoughts towards the statement.
While it is possible to place disjuncts at the end of a sentence, they can also be used initially or medially depending on the desired effect.
When “really” is part of a serial list
The last case in which a pre-comma is needed is when “really” is part of a serial list, which is pretty much self-explanatory.
In serial lists though, the last comma before the conjunction, which is often either “and” or “or,” is optional as long as removing it does not create any obscurity to the sentence.
My younger brother is often stinky, really annoying, and inexplicably gross at all times.
In the example, “really” necessitates a pre-comma particularly because it is part of the second item in the list.
Hence, the comma would be optional when it is used as the final item in the list or before the coordinating conjunction.
When should we not put a comma before “really?”
I’d like to assume that this section is a lot easier than the previous one.
As long as you know how adverbs do their most basic task, which is to modify verbs, adjectives, and adverbs, then you’re in good hands.
Also note that these types of modification should not be done in a parenthetical manner, but rather as essential sentence elements.
Let us look at some examples to understand better.
When “really” modifies a verb
When the adverb “really” is used to premodify verbs, using a pre-comma would be grammatically incorrect.
Using an adverb this way, as long as it is done in a non-parenthetical manner, does not need any comma before or after the word.
She really knows what she wants in life.
“Really,” modifies the main verb “knows” in the sentence above which is an important, irremovable sentence element.
The meaning of “really” in the example is similar to “actually” which draws attention towards the word it modifies, resulting in an emphatic effect to the verb rather than the other words.
When “really” modifies an adjective
Similarly, a comma is not placed before “really” when it pre-modifies adjectives for the same reasons elaborated earlier.
He got really humiliated with what you just said.
However, this time, “really” functions as an intensifier to the adjective “humiliated,” aiming to increase the intensity of the modified word.
“Really” may also be replaced with other adverbs having a similar function such as “very”, “so”, or “extremely”.
When “really” modifies another adverb
Lastly, “really” may also be used to intensify the meaning of other adverbs in sentences.
Doing so shifts the emphasis towards the pre-modified adverb, as opposed to the other words used in the sentence.
Heather talks really fast.
Note though that “fast” can either be used as an adjective or an adverb depending on the word it modifies.
“Fast” is used to describe the act of “talking” which means it functions as an adverb instead of an adjective.
Intensifying the meaning of “fast” with “really” means that the subject’s manner of speaking exceeds the speaker or hearer’s expectations.
Thus, the intensifying function of “really” is more of a subjective evaluation, which mainly depends on the language user’s perception.
Frequently Asked Questions on Comma Before “Really”
Should we put a comma after “really” at the beginning of a sentence?
The answer to the question depends on how “really” is used in a sentence. When the word functions as a sentence-initial disjunct, which is also similar to how parenthetical elements work, a post-comma is necessary. But, when “really” is only used as a part of an introductory expression, which means other introductory words come afterward, an after-comma must not be used.
Can we use “really” in the middle of the sentence and enclose it with two commas?
Yes, definitely, particularly in informal writing. When “really” is used this way, we may call it an adverbial disjunct or a parenthetical word to convey the meaning similar to “actually.” Disjuncts and parentheses are grammatically-inessential elements that need to be encapsulated with commas to mark grammatical dispensability.
Can we put a comma before “because?”
A comma is not placed before “because” when it introduces a dependent clause after the main clause. However, a pre-comma may be used when “because” introduces a parenthetical expression or when the sentence would be obscure without one, particularly when the main clause’s verb is inflected in the negative form. “Rosie did not pass the practical driving test, because she was too anxious.”
Although comma rules are generally perceived as ticky or a bit intimidating, commas exist for a single reason: to disambiguate sentences.
Just like how white spaces function, commas assist in making texts much easier to read and understand, and that’s pretty much it.
So, I guess the best way to learn to love commas is to imagine the world of written languages without one.
Hey fellow Linguaholics! It’s me, Marcel. I am the proud owner of linguaholic.com. Languages have always been my passion and I have studied Linguistics, Computational Linguistics and Sinology at the University of Zurich. It is my utmost pleasure to share with all of you guys what I know about languages and linguistics in general.