Posts Tagged compound predicate

A Man Acts

The teacher spoke to the students, saying, “A man rises and walks. What does this tell you?”
Bumbo answered, “A man is his actions.”
Bumbo rushed to his desk and started erasing commas.

The teacher’s sentence illustrates that a man can do more than one action. As Bumbo realizes, a man can do actions. In the same way, the subject of the sentence can have more than one predicate. If Bumbo puts a comma before the second predicate, he separates the subject from one of its actions. He already knows that the subject should not be separated from the predicate, so he rushes to find and erase any commas before the second predicate. When he erases those commas, he connects the subject to its actions.

According to Zen Comma Rule AJ, we don’t use a comma to separate the subject from the predicate. This is still true if the sentence has a compound predicate, as in the following example.

The files you sent were infected with some sort of virus and could not be opened on our system.

The subject is files. This subject has two predicates. The first predicate is were infected with some sort of virus. The second predicate is could not be opened on our system. The subject files, therefore, has two actions. We see that this is true when we break the sentence into two sentences.

The files you sent were infected with some sort of virus.
The files you sent could not be opened on our system.

Because the two predicates are a bit long, some writers will mistakenly put a comma after virus, which is the last word of the first predicate. This breaks Zen Comma Rule AK: Don’t use a comma to separate two parts of a compound predicate.

If we put a comma there, we separate the second predicate from the subject, thus breaking two commas rules at once.

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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2 Incorrect Comma Uses

By now you have probably realized that I like commas—a lot. They help the reader identify individual units of meaning in your sentences, thus improving clarity. If you learn the comma rules, you will likely use a lot of commas.

But some commas are wrong. Commas separate elements of sentences, and some elements should not be separated.

First Incorrect Comma Use

Zen Comma Rule AJ tells us, “Don’t use a comma to separate the predicate from the subject.” Together, not individually, these two parts of the sentence communicate the main point of the sentence. Either one alone does not. This means they should not be separated with a comma.

Example: The owner of the company that went broke had to apply for a job.
Subject: The owner of the company that went broke
Predicate: had to apply for a job.

As we see in this correct example, the sentence has no comma between the subject and predicate. Even though the subject is a bit complex, with the prepositional phrase “of the company” and the restrictive phrase “that went broke,” we don’t put a comma between the subject and the predicate.

If you follow the “put a comma where you pause” technique, you might be inclined to put a comma after the subject. The comma would be wrong. This sentence needs no comma.

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No Commas in the Pool

This blog will be a bit quiet for a few days. I’m on business travel this week, working with teachers on developing a new K-12 Language Arts curriculum to help students do better on state tests. The work is interesting, and the results of our efforts will pay off over the course of the next year or two.

Don’t worry. I’m still thinking about commas.

Problem Sentence

After a day of wrestling with challenging questions and helping teachers learn new processes, I needed a break. The community has a recreation center with a pool, and a swim sounded nice. Posted at the entrance to the pool area was a large sign with pool rules, the first of which was as follows:

No running in the pool, or in the hallways.

I’m not sure why running in the pool is dangerous, but what really caught my attention was that odd comma. Why is it there?

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Implied Subject Determines Comma

I believe education organizations (e.g., schools, districts, state departments of education) have an obligation to model correct English. Among other responsibilities, they are charged with helping children become successful, contributing members of society, and this means teaching children to communicate well. For this to happen, educators, at all levels, need to demonstrate the highest standard of language use. Children not only learn what they are formally taught but also learn what they observe.

The Sample

With this in mind, I found the following misuse of commas on a school district website.

Once logged in, highlight the Grades menu, and choose Grades to view your student’s current grades. (

This has two commas. The first one is correct, but the second one isn’t.

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