Bumbo Is a Comma Fool

The Koan

On his first day at the Zen Comma School, Bumbo was happily putting commas in his first assignment. He wrote, “This school, is great, and, I will learn, a lot.”

The teacher looked over Bumbo’s shoulder and read the assignment. Then he hit Bumbo with a stick.

“Why did you hit me?” Bumbo cried.

His teacher replied, “Because you are a fool!”

The Lesson

Bumbo was a fool because he was using commas without understanding. He was using the “salt shaker” approach to comma…just sprinkle them in the sentences and hope that some of them will land in the right places. He knew that commas are important, so he used a lot of them. But he had no idea where to use them or why he was using them.

The Discussion

Bumbo was right that commas are very important. They help the reader understand the message of the sentence. Commas do this by separating (not joining!) individual components of the sentence, which helps the reader identify meaningful parts that together convey the meaning of the entire sentence. 

We put commas in to separate discrete components of the sentence, each of which has its own meaning. However, some parts must be joined because they are incomplete without another part. We don’t put a comma between them so that they will remain connected. 

Comma use follows very specific rules, each based on the principle that commas are tools for separating components of sentences. For example, Zen Comma Rule AJ states, “Don’t use a comma to separate the predicate from the subject.” When Bumbo put a comma a comma before “is,” he separated the predicate from the subject, “This school.” 

Fill your sentences with commas, if you must, but don’t do it like Bumbo. Don’t put in commas willy-nilly. Put them where they belong.


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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