Posts Tagged grammar

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.

Advertisements

, , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

A Dramatic Comma

I came across this troubling sentence today:

“Wilson can find a solution to staffing problems, if a solution is possible.”

Take a look at that comma after problems. Should that comma be there?

Zen Comma Rule H says, “Don’t separate the descriptive clause or phrase if it occurs at the end of the sentence.” On the other hand, Rule W says, “Use commas to separate final descriptions that don’t refer to the immediately preceding text.” Which rule applies to the sentence?

The answer is Rule H. The comma is wrong. Now, let’s figure out why.

“If a solution is possible” describes the action “can find.” It establishes a condition for the action to occur, making it an adverbial descriptive phrase. (adverbial = modifies the action in some way) This role of the descriptive phrase is more apparent when we move it to the beginning of the sentence, as follows.

“If a solution is possible, Wilson can find a solution to staffing problems.”

Following Zen Comma Rule G, the descriptive phrase in the modified sentence is properly followed by a comma. The phrase is clearly describing the action “can find.” The comma serves two purposes here:

(1) indicate that the introductory description is finished and the main idea is about to start, and

(2) separate the introductory phrase from the subject that follows.

However, when we put the introductory phrase at the end of the sentence, neither purpose applies, so no comma is needed. Thus, the original sentence, with the descriptive phrase at the end, does not need the comma.

But why doesn’t comma Rule W apply? As we saw when re-ordering the sentence, the descriptive phrase “if a solution is possible” refers to “can find a solution to staffing problems.” With the descriptive phrase at the end of the sentence, it does refer to the immediately preceding text, and we don’t need the comma.

If the comma isn’t needed, why is it there? I have two answers to that question.

First, it may be an error. Maybe the writer does not know how to use commas well and made a mistake.

Second, it may be there to force a pause for dramatic effect. The writer may have added the comma to emphasize the descriptive phrase. A better way to do this is as follows:

“Wilson can find a solution to staffing problems—if a solution is possible.”

The comma is wrong, but it might serve a purpose, assuming that the writer intended this effect. To give the writer the benefit of my doubt, I will assume the writer added the comma for dramatic effect.

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment

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).

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 Comments

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).

, , , , , , , , ,

Leave a comment