Mississippi Educators Move Away From Commas

I browse department of education websites from time to time. This morning, I found the following gem.

“Schools and families want more transportation options and active transportation has many benefits including increased physical activity, more quality time for kids and families, reduced traffic congestion and improved air quality in the areas surrounding schools.”
(http://www.mde.k12.ms.us/extrel/news/2011/11MDEprogram.htm)

One sentence. Three commas missing. Let’s see where they go.

1. Let’s put a comma before the coordinating conjunction that joins two independent clauses (Zen Comma Rule D).

The first independent clause is “Schools and families want more transportation options.” The second independent clause is “active transportation has many benefits….” They are joined by the coordinating conjunction “and.” Following Rule D, we’ll put a comma before that conjunction. This comma will prevent the reader from thinking that schools and families want more transportation options and active transportation.

2. Let’s put a comma before the final non-grammatical description (Zen Comma Rule X).

The sentence is grammatically complete after “benefits.” We could put a period there. Instead, the sentence has a final, and long, description of the benefits that is not grammatically connected to the main sentence. Following Rule X, we’ll put a comma before “including.” In fact, when a final descriptive phrase begins with “including,” it usually needs to be preceded with a comma.

3. Let’s put a comma before the final item in the series (i.e., the serial comma) to separate it from the previous items (Zen Comma Rule B).

The series in question contains (1) increased physical activity, (2) more quality time for kids and families, (3) reduced traffic congestion and (4) improved air quality in the areas surrounding schools. We need to put a comma before the “and” that precedes item #4.

Some people argue against using the serial comma. I argue for consistency. Sometimes we need it for clarity, so let’s always use if for consistency. In this sample, it does improve clarity. The series is long, and one of the items has its own “and.” The serial comma will help the reader find the item #4 and avoid thinking it is part of item #3. Maybe this is clear to you without the comma. Maybe it isn’t. I’ll put it in just to make sure it’s clear.

Now that we know where the comma should go, here’s the corrected sentence.

Schools and families want more transportation options, and active transportation has many benefits, including increased physical activity, more quality time for kids and families, reduced traffic congestion, and improved air quality in the areas surrounding schools.


Need help with commas? Get Zen Comma, an instructive reference guide on the 17 major uses and misuses of commas, available in PDF and Kindle formats. Read more about Zen Comma.

Your Writing Companion: Our e-book with samples from each of our writing guides: Get the free e-book (PDF, 45 pages) or purchase the Kindle version ($0.99).

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