Smuggled Commas Missing

Commas can be confusing because they are used in so many ways. However, once you learn to use them, you need to make sure you use them consistently. This was the problem for a reporter of an animal smuggling story. (You can read the story here: http://news.yahoo.com/man-tried-247-animals-plane-165607848.html.)

The Comma Rule

The reporter had a problem with Zen Comma rule D: Put a comma before a coordinating conjunction that joins two sentences. As Zen Comma explains, when you join two complete sentences with the conjunctions and, but, yet, for, so, nor, or or, you need a comma before the conjunction.

Correct Comma Use

As you see in this example, the reporter knows how to follow this rule:

A judge has charged Abelovsky with attempted smuggling, and he faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

First independent clause (complete sentence): a judge has charged Abelovsky with attempted smuggling
Second independent clause (complete sentence): he faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted
Coordinating conjunction: and

As you can see, the reporter correctly used a comma before and.

Comma Error

However, the reporter missed it on this one:

Two of the animals were found dead and most of the others could have suffered the same fate due to a lack of oxygen if the suitcase had been placed in the plane’s cargo area.

First independent clause: two of the animals were found dead
Second independent clause: most of the others could have suffered the same fate due to a lack of oxygen if the suitcase had been placed in the plane’s cargo area
Coordinating conjunction: and

Here, the reporter forgot the comma before and.

Preventing Comma Errors

I know very well from experience that proofreading your own writing is challenging. You are likely to miss even very simple errors, as the reporter did here. This is the reason I recommend having someone else do your proofreading. (Yes, I do my own proofreading of these posts, and you are welcome to point out any errors.)

Of course, you have to know the comma rules first before you proofread.


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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