Maryland Excels in Comma Use

Maryland public education is highly ranked, according to both Education Week and the College Board. With this in mind, I would expect Maryland’s education leaders to be expert communicators.

When leaders are good communicators, they help their organizations achieve high goals. (I argue that people who are not good communicators can not be good leaders.) Thus, a high achieving education system is a sign of education leaders who are expert communicators.

People who are expert communicators generally understand comma use because correct comma use leads to excellent communication. Let’s look at a sample from the Maryland Department of Education website for evidence.

The curriculum Framework, the foundation of the new curriculum, will be presented to the State Board in June 2011, and the completed curriculum will be implemented in Maryland schools in the 2013-2014 school year. (http://mdk12.org/instruction/commoncore/index.html)

First Comma Use: Non-restrictive Appositive

The phrase the foundation of the new curriculum is in apposition to curriculum Framework. This means that the phrase renames or restates curriculum Framework. They mean the same thing. Curriculum Framework equals, and is a perfect match for, the foundation of the new curriculum.

In technical terms, the phrase is a non-restrictive appositive. One way to check this is to see whether the terms can be used independently without changing the meaning of the sentence. Using this example, we can write either

The curriculum Framework will be presented to the State Board in June 2011

or

The foundation of the new curriculum will be presented to the State Board in June 2011

without changing the meaning of the sentence. Because both sentences are grammatically correct and have the same meaning, we know that the foundation of the new curriculum is a non-restrictive appositive for the curriculum Framework.

According to Zen Comma Rule J, a non-restrictive appositive is separated from the rest of the sentence with commas. As you can see from the sample, the non-restrictive appositive is separated from the rest of the sentence, with commas both before and after the phrase.

Second Comma Use: Compound Sentences

Now that we have examined the first two commas, let’s look at the third. To understand why the third comma is correct, we need to first examine the entire sentence structure.

This sample has two complete sentences joined by and to make one long sentence. We can call each sentence an independent clause. An independent clause has a subject and predicate and can serve as a complete sentence by itself.

In the sample, the first independent clause is

The curriculum Framework, the foundation of the new curriculum, will be presented to the State Board in June 2011.

If we put a period at the end, as I did here, we have a complete sentence.

The second independent clause is

The completed curriculum will be implemented in Maryland schools in the 2013-2014 school year.

If we capitalize the first word, as I did here, we have another complete sentence.

Thus, this sample has two independent clauses, or complete sentences, joined by the coordinating conjunction and.

Following Zen Comma Rule D, the sample has a comma before the coordinating conjunction that joins two independent clauses. In simpler terms, when you join two complete sentences with a conjunction, put a comma before the conjunction.

Correct Comma Use!

I expect a high-quality education system (or any organization) to have high-achieving leaders, and I expect high-achieving leaders to be expert communicators, and I expect expert communicators to know how to use commas. Based on this sample, I declare the education leaders at the Maryland State Department of Education to be Zen Comma Masters.


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.

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Get the free e-book (PDF, 45 pages) or purchase the Kindle version ($0.99).

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  1. #1 by Allen G on December 20, 2016 - 10:35 pm

    I’m still struggling with the comma use found in “Maryland public education is highly ranked, according to both Education Week and the College Board. “According to both Education Week and the College Board” is not a complete thought, so why do you use a comma? I would think that no comma is necessary.

  2. #2 by preciseedit on September 7, 2017 - 2:32 pm

    The final phrase is parenthetical and is not a part of the central message of the sentence.

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