Tag Archives: zen

What Do Commas Do?


What Do Commas Do?

I have been receiving quite a few questions about the basic purpose of the comma. For example, one Twitter follower asked simply, “Can you explain what commas are for?”

Twitter isn’t really the place for lengthy discussions, so I responded “Commas are used to separate meaningful units in sentences.” Here’s a more lengthy response about the value of commas and how they are used, taken from the introductory sections of Zen Comma.

Commas are confusing

The final stage of the writing process is proofreading: correcting any errors in spelling, punctuation, word usage, and format. Roughly 75% of what I do while proofreading clients’ documents is correct commas.

When I teach community writing courses at the university, I ask the students, “What’s the number one thing that confuses you about punctuation and grammar?” In every class, someone says “Commas,” and about half of the students nod in agreement.

Commas confuse most people. Unlike other types of punctuation, they are used in so many ways. The purpose of this book is to show you how to use them correctly.

If you want to write clearly and professionally, you need to use commas correctly. Continue reading

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Bumbo Learns about Implied Words


The Koan

The teacher went to the platform to give his lesson on commas. He looked at the students, saying nothing. Then he wrote a comma on the wall and left. “Ah,” said Bumbo. “Missing words need commas, too!”

The Lesson

When the teacher stands before the students, saying nothing, all his words are implied. What Bumbo learns is that whether the sentence contains all the words or whether some words are purposefully left out, a writer needs to use commas as if they were all there. The comma left behind by the teacher indicates that comma rules apply even when some words are missing from a sentence. Continue reading

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Use the Serial Comma


Commas in Series
  1. The toy was red [comma] round [comma] and heavy.
  2. I purchased pickles at the store [comma] gas at the convenience store [comma] and flowers at the florist for my beautiful wife.

RULE A:
Separate every item in a series with a comma.

Series: A series is a string of three or more matching items in a sentence. For example, the series in sample 1 contains three items: red, round, and heavy. The series in sample 2 also contains three items.

Take a look at sample 1 and see how the commas fit the rule. The first item is red, and it is separated from round by a comma. The second item is round, and it is separated from red and heavy by commas. Every item in the series is separated from the other items by commas.

The Zen Comma Master

Koan 1: Bumbo approached the teacher and said, “Teacher, I was taught not to use the comma before the word and. Is that true?” The teacher replied, “Newspapers.”

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