A Library Full of Commas

Someone at the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) loves commas and knows how to use them correctly. Take a look at this quotation from a recent LAPL press release:

According to the grant proposal, if the situation continues, California could lose a generation of young librarians who have been taught the cutting edge of library science and technology. (http://www.lapl.org/newsroom/releases/Fellowship.pdf)

We already know (or should know) Zen Comma Rule G: Put a comma after introductory clauses and phrases. This quotation has two such introductory descriptions!

Here’s how this rule works. Let’s say you write the sentence “The shuttle will land at 10:00 a.m.” Next, you want to communicate that the shuttle will land only if the weather is good, so you add “If the weather is good” to the beginning, as follows:

If the weather is good, the shuttle will land at 10:00 a.m.

We always start by finding the subject and main verb of a sentence. The subject is “the shuttle,” and the main verb is “will land.”

The added clause tells something about the action of the shuttle landing, and it is before the subject of the sentence. We can call this an introductory (before the subject) adverbial (describes the main action) clause. Based on Rule G, it is followed with a comma.

Now let’s see how this applies to the LAPL quotation.

The main sentence is “California could lose a generation of young librarians who have been taught the cutting edge of library science and technology.” The subject is “California,” and the main verb / main action is “could lose.”

The writer added an introductory clause to explain how or why the main action could occur: “if the situation occurs.” Quite correctly, this introductory description is followed by a comma.

Then the writer added a second introductory phrase to explain where this information was found: “According to the grant proposal.” This phrase, too, is followed by a comma.

As a result, the complete sentence has two introductory descriptions and two commas!

Good job, LAPL press release writer! You’re a Zen Comma Master.

(And congratulations, LAPL, on receiving this grant!)


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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