Posts Tagged appositive

Tech Review Comma Oops

I just read an interesting review of the new Google Glass, which, by the way, is very, very cool. But that’s beside the point.

The writer had a chance to try out Google Glass, and he wrote a good article. Here’s the article: http://www.sfgate.com/technology/businessinsider/article/I-Just-Tried-On-Google-Glass-And-This-Is-What-It-4347779.php

Now, to the point. The writer has a good grasp of correct comma use, and by correctly using commas, he made his moderately complex sentences easy to read and understand. In fact, I only found three comma errors, a better-than-typical rate for online journalists.

Comma Error

One of the comma errors, though, was so egregious that it deserves some explanation. The writer wrote,

“What I did realize, is that Google needs to offer a solution for individuals who wear glasses.”

The comma error is the comma betwen realize and is. By placing a comma there, the writer breaks Zen Comma rule AJ: No commas between subjects and predicates. When we parse this sentence, we can see how the comma breaks this rule.

The main verb begins the predicate of the sentence. In this sentence, the main verb is “is.” In most sentences, including this one, the subject is just prior to the predicate. In this sentence, the subject is “What I did realize.”

Subject: “What I did realize”
Predicate: “is that Google needs to offer….”

The comma separates the subject from the predicate, and it needs to be removed to make this sentence correct.

Comma Rule

Why is this a problem? What’s the purpose of rule AJ?

Commas separate elements in sentences. However, the subject of a sentence must have a main verb to have meaning. Similarly, the predicate has no value, no meaning, unless it has a subject. As such, these two elements of the sentence cannot be separated. They work together to provide meaning.

Because they cannot be separated (or, because they must be together), we don’t separate them with a comma.

Commas Between Subjects and Predicates

“Hey,” you might be thinking, “I see commas between subjects and predicates all the time!” Yes, in some cases, we can have commas between subjects and predicates without breaking Zen Comma rule AJ. Here’s a correct example, also from the article.

“The right side of Glass, where the battery rests, is touch-sensitive.”

When we parse this sentence, we find the following.

Subject: “The right side of Glass”
Predicate: “is touch sensitive.”

Between the subject and predicate, we read the clause “where the battery rests.” This clause is an appositive for “The right side of Glass.” It is surrounded by commas, with the result that two commas are between the subject and predicate. Those commas are required by Zen Comma Rule  J: Separate non-restrictive appositives with commas.

If we take out the appositive, we also take out the commas. In other words, the commas are there because of the appositive, not to separate the subject and predicate. In fact, they tell the reader when the appositive begins and ends so that the reader can easily find the predicate and connect it to the subject.

In any case, this is not what is happening in the faulty sentence. The faulty sentences doesn’t have an appositive (or other clause requiring commas) between the subject and predicate. Even if there were a reason for commas, we would need two, not one, commas.

End result: The writer made a comma error. That comma needs to go.

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Bumbo Sits Motionless

The Koan

Bumbo sat motionless in the Temple of Meaning. His teacher asked what he was doing.
“I am learning to use commas,” Bumbo told him.
“You foolish student,” the teacher exclaimed. “If you do not act on what you know, your life will never be complete.”

The Explanation

Bumbo, the subject of this koan, isn’t doing anything. He thinks he is, but he is wrong. The teacher reminds him that a subject without an action is incomplete. He wants Bumbo to learn that a comma should not separate the predicate from the subject because a subject needs a predicate to make a complete sentence.

The Lesson

Every complete sentence needs two things: a subject and a predicate. These two parts are required and work together to make a complete sentence. The key word here is together.

Commas separate items in a sentence. The absence of a comma shows that they are connected. If we put a comma between the subject and predicate, we separate them. This is wrong because they need to be connected: they work together.

Wrong example: The author of the best-selling book on marketing, began planning his next book.

In this wrong example, the complete subject is The author of the best-selling book on marketing. The predicate, which begins with the main verb, is began planning his next book. This example is wrong because it has a comma between the subject and predicate. To fix this sentence, we remove the comma and join the subject and predicate.

The only time you can have a comma between the subject and predicate is when the end of the subject has some phrase or expression that requires a pair of commas. In that case, the commas are in the sentence not to separate the subject and predicate but to separate the phrase, as seen in the next example.

Correct example with commas: The author of the best-selling book on marketing, which he released the prior year, began planning his next book.

In this example, the comma before the main verb is part of a pair of commas to separate the non-restrictive phrase which he released the prior year. The first sentence of the explanation above also uses commas in this way.


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.
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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.

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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Commas with Parenthetical Expressions

RULE AA:
Separate parenthetical expressions with commas.

Definition of Parenthetical Expression. These are expressions that do not add essential content for understanding the sentence, such as an off-topic comment or a phrase inserted in a sentence that breaks the flow of the idea. These expressions may be placed in parentheses; hence the name.

Rule AA is something of a catch-all, a grammatical version of “other duties as assigned.” Many phrases and clauses are considered parenthetical expressions, including appositives, direct addresses, interpolated asides, and interjections.

Basically, any expression, description, comment, etc. that interrupts the flow of ideas, that can be moved around in the sentence, and that can be placed in parentheses without confusing the reader needs to be separated from the rest of the sentence with commas.

Sample 12.1.   The new mall, I have heard, will be huge.

In sample 12.1, the parenthetical expression is I have heard. This is not part of the idea being expressed in the sentence. It can be moved to the front or end of the sentence. And it could be placed in parentheses. As such, it is separated from the rest of the sentence with commas, one before and one after. Also, if I had written it at the end of the sentence, I would still need to separate it from the rest of the sentence.

Sample 12.2.   This economic forecast model, compared to other models, shows flat growth.

In sample 12.2, the parenthetical expression is compared to other models. Wherever I put it in the sentence, it will need to be separated by commas.

Sample 12.4.   Compared to other models, this economic forecast model shows flat growth.
Sample 12.5.   This economic forecast model shows flat growth, compared to other models.

Sample 12.4 uses the parenthetical expression as an introductory adverbial phrase (Rule G), and sample 12.5 uses it as a non-grammatical final description (Rule X). Because it is a parenthetical expression, no matter where it is in the sentence, it needs to be separated from the rest of the sentence with commas.


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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