This blog will be a bit quiet for a few days. I’m on business travel this week, working with teachers on developing a new K-12 Language Arts curriculum to help students do better on state tests. The work is interesting, and the results of our efforts will pay off over the course of the next year or two.
Don’t worry. I’m still thinking about commas.
After a day of wrestling with challenging questions and helping teachers learn new processes, I needed a break. The community has a recreation center with a pool, and a swim sounded nice. Posted at the entrance to the pool area was a large sign with pool rules, the first of which was as follows:
No running in the pool, or in the hallways.
I’m not sure why running in the pool is dangerous, but what really caught my attention was that odd comma. Why is it there?
Discussion and Solution
When we parse this sentence, we see that it has a pair of prepositional phrases: in the pool, in the hallways. Now, if the sentence had two independent clauses joined by the conjunction or, it would need a comma there (Zen Comma Rule D). Also, if it had a series of items with or before the last item, it would need that comma (Zen Comma Rule B). But neither situation is the case in this sentence.
The sentence has no reason for a comma before or. That comma is wrong and needs to be removed to fix this sentence.
This sentence is similar to a sentence with a compound subject (e.g., The man and the dog walked down the street), a sentence with a compound predicate (e.g., The man walked down the street and whistled a tune), and a sentence with a compound object (e.g., The man bought flowers and candy). As we see from these examples, we also don’t use commas to separate compound subjects, predicates, or objects (unless they are in a series).
In spite of the incorrectly written pool rules, the pool was, oh, so nice. In fact, the water was so pleasant that I nearly started running–in the pool.
Need help with commas? Get Zen Comma, a guide to the 17 major uses and misuses of commas, available in PDF and Kindle formats. Read more about Zen Comma.