By now you have probably realized that I like commas—a lot. They help the reader identify individual units of meaning in your sentences, thus improving clarity. If you learn the comma rules, you will likely use a lot of commas.
But some commas are wrong. Commas separate elements of sentences, and some elements should not be separated.
First Incorrect Comma Use
Zen Comma Rule AJ tells us, “Don’t use a comma to separate the predicate from the subject.” Together, not individually, these two parts of the sentence communicate the main point of the sentence. Either one alone does not. This means they should not be separated with a comma.
Example: The owner of the company that went broke had to apply for a job.
Subject: The owner of the company that went broke
Predicate: had to apply for a job.
As we see in this correct example, the sentence has no comma between the subject and predicate. Even though the subject is a bit complex, with the prepositional phrase “of the company” and the restrictive phrase “that went broke,” we don’t put a comma between the subject and the predicate.
If you follow the “put a comma where you pause” technique, you might be inclined to put a comma after the subject. The comma would be wrong. This sentence needs no comma.
Second Incorrect Comma Use
Zen Comma Rule AK tells us, “Don’t use a comma to separate two parts of a compound predicate.” This is actually an extension of the previous error. We now know that no comma is needed between the subject and the predicate. However, some sentences have more than one predicate. If we put a comma between them, we separate the second predicate from the subject, thus breaking Zen Comma Rule AJ.
Example: The owner applied for many jobs after his company went broke and found one that he would enjoy.
Predicate 1: applied for many jobs after his company went broke
Predicate 2: found one that he would enjoy
As we see from this correct example, the sentence has no comma between the two predicates. Both predicates have the same subject: “The owner.” Neither one can be separated from the subject with a comma, which means the sentence has no comma between the predicates.
You might put a comma there because you need to breathe (using the risky breathe-comma approach), or you might think you need to use the “comma with and” rule. Both would be wrong.
There you go: two unnecessary (and incorrect) commas to avoid. Fortunately, they’re easy to find and fix.
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.