Posts Tagged Rule AJ

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

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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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A Man Acts

Koan:
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.

Explanation:
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.

Instruction:
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.

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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