I just read an interesting review of the new Google Glass, which, by the way, is very, very cool. But that’s beside the point.
The writer had a chance to try out Google Glass, and he wrote a good article. Here’s the article: http://www.sfgate.com/technology/businessinsider/article/I-Just-Tried-On-Google-Glass-And-This-Is-What-It-4347779.php
Now, to the point. The writer has a good grasp of correct comma use, and by correctly using commas, he made his moderately complex sentences easy to read and understand. In fact, I only found three comma errors, a better-than-typical rate for online journalists.
One of the comma errors, though, was so egregious that it deserves some explanation. The writer wrote,
“What I did realize, is that Google needs to offer a solution for individuals who wear glasses.”
The comma error is the comma betwen realize and is. By placing a comma there, the writer breaks Zen Comma rule AJ: No commas between subjects and predicates. When we parse this sentence, we can see how the comma breaks this rule.
The main verb begins the predicate of the sentence. In this sentence, the main verb is “is.” In most sentences, including this one, the subject is just prior to the predicate. In this sentence, the subject is “What I did realize.”
Subject: “What I did realize”
Predicate: “is that Google needs to offer….”
The comma separates the subject from the predicate, and it needs to be removed to make this sentence correct.
Why is this a problem? What’s the purpose of rule AJ?
Commas separate elements in sentences. However, the subject of a sentence must have a main verb to have meaning. Similarly, the predicate has no value, no meaning, unless it has a subject. As such, these two elements of the sentence cannot be separated. They work together to provide meaning.
Because they cannot be separated (or, because they must be together), we don’t separate them with a comma.
Commas Between Subjects and Predicates
“Hey,” you might be thinking, “I see commas between subjects and predicates all the time!” Yes, in some cases, we can have commas between subjects and predicates without breaking Zen Comma rule AJ. Here’s a correct example, also from the article.
“The right side of Glass, where the battery rests, is touch-sensitive.”
When we parse this sentence, we find the following.
Subject: “The right side of Glass”
Predicate: “is touch sensitive.”
Between the subject and predicate, we read the clause “where the battery rests.” This clause is an appositive for “The right side of Glass.” It is surrounded by commas, with the result that two commas are between the subject and predicate. Those commas are required by Zen Comma Rule J: Separate non-restrictive appositives with commas.
If we take out the appositive, we also take out the commas. In other words, the commas are there because of the appositive, not to separate the subject and predicate. In fact, they tell the reader when the appositive begins and ends so that the reader can easily find the predicate and connect it to the subject.
In any case, this is not what is happening in the faulty sentence. The faulty sentences doesn’t have an appositive (or other clause requiring commas) between the subject and predicate. Even if there were a reason for commas, we would need two, not one, commas.
End result: The writer made a comma error. That comma needs to go.
I came across this troubling sentence today:
“Wilson can find a solution to staffing problems, if a solution is possible.”
Take a look at that comma after problems. Should that comma be there?
Zen Comma Rule H says, “Don’t separate the descriptive clause or phrase if it occurs at the end of the sentence.” On the other hand, Rule W says, “Use commas to separate final descriptions that don’t refer to the immediately preceding text.” Which rule applies to the sentence?
The answer is Rule H. The comma is wrong. Now, let’s figure out why.
“If a solution is possible” describes the action “can find.” It establishes a condition for the action to occur, making it an adverbial descriptive phrase. (adverbial = modifies the action in some way) This role of the descriptive phrase is more apparent when we move it to the beginning of the sentence, as follows.
“If a solution is possible, Wilson can find a solution to staffing problems.”
Following Zen Comma Rule G, the descriptive phrase in the modified sentence is properly followed by a comma. The phrase is clearly describing the action “can find.” The comma serves two purposes here:
(1) indicate that the introductory description is finished and the main idea is about to start, and
(2) separate the introductory phrase from the subject that follows.
However, when we put the introductory phrase at the end of the sentence, neither purpose applies, so no comma is needed. Thus, the original sentence, with the descriptive phrase at the end, does not need the comma.
But why doesn’t comma Rule W apply? As we saw when re-ordering the sentence, the descriptive phrase “if a solution is possible” refers to “can find a solution to staffing problems.” With the descriptive phrase at the end of the sentence, it does refer to the immediately preceding text, and we don’t need the comma.
If the comma isn’t needed, why is it there? I have two answers to that question.
First, it may be an error. Maybe the writer does not know how to use commas well and made a mistake.
Second, it may be there to force a pause for dramatic effect. The writer may have added the comma to emphasize the descriptive phrase. A better way to do this is as follows:
“Wilson can find a solution to staffing problems—if a solution is possible.”
The comma is wrong, but it might serve a purpose, assuming that the writer intended this effect. To give the writer the benefit of my doubt, I will assume the writer added the comma for dramatic effect.
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Where do you put commas when writing out the date? Commas with dates can be a little confusing because comma use changes according to how the date is written. Perhaps this little dialogue will demonstrate.
“I’m going on a date with Lisa,” Bob said.
“Oh, when are you going?” Tom asked.
“Really?” Tom asked again. “What year?”
“What do you mean, what year? In 2012!” Bob said, indignant.
“So you’re going in March 2012?”
“Yes, on the 14th!”
“Let me see if I understand,” Tom said.”On March 14, 2012, you’re going on a date with Lisa.”
“That’s what I said! Not January 2012. Not February 2012. March 2012!”
“March 14, 2012, you and Lisa are going on a date?”
Bob got mad at Tom’s persistent questions. “What are you getting at, Tom?”
“Will you answer one more question first, Bob?”
“You do realize, don’t you, that March 14, 2012, has already passed?”
One quick note about these examples: The dates in this dialogue follow American English conventions, with month, day, and year. Other countries use different systems, such as day, month, and year (example: 14 March, 2012).
Now, to explain:
1. Month and Year only = no comma
2. Month and Day only = no comma
3. Month and Day and Year = commas around the year (before and after). This follows Zen Comma Rule AC: Put commas around the year with the month and day are included.
I hope this helps!