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Comma Down—Commas in a Series / Compound Subjects #1

When two or more subjects in a sentence share the same verb, we call it a compound subject.

Chickadees and cardinals frequent my winter feeders.

In this sentence, chickadees and cardinals both share the verb frequent. We call this a compound subject but, as you can see, no comma is needed because there are only two elements. In this case, the conjunction separates sufficiently.

But consider this:

Chickadees, cardinals, titmice and jays swarmed the feeder.

Yikes! In this case, I need more food and should consider, perhaps, erecting another feeder.

Oh, right. Commas. You need them, too. Especially if the elements get a bit more complicated—like so:

The boys next door, the twins on the next block, the family from Encino and the Crisofarinario kids from our old school were invited over for a pig roast.

The subject of a sentence, then, is the main noun or pronoun plus anything that modifies it. Those modifiers can take up a fair amount of real estate and so commas become all the more important.

If you noodle around the Comma Down category of this website, you’ll find a couple of posts about Commas in a Series. You’ll also find that those rules apply here. Three or more elements in a series—including three or more subjects that share a single verb—must be separated by commas.

If you look around this category a little more, you’ll see a post about using the Oxford comma. You’ll also see that I don’t. Ever. That’s why there’s no comma after “titmice” or “the family from Encino” in the sentences above. You are free to put one there if you like or if you are required to by your teacher or employer. But, please, be consistent. If you use the Oxford comma, take a stand and use it always. I choose to use it never. My stand on this issue is not always popular and it’s not always easy, but it’s the hill that I have chosen to defend to the end.

Now you try it.

Here are some subjects:

pen      paper     pencil     keyboard     crayon     paintbrush     canvas     notebook screen  key   door     chain     lock    fob     combination     carabiner     heart     car     diary      paper clip     corgi     labradoodle     mutt     stray     cocker spaniel     rescue    Scoobie Doo   Eddie    my last boyfriend  my best girlfriend  the crazy cat next door    the Tesla in the far left lane     DeLorean    Batmobile    Barbie Dream Car    Titanic     Apollo 13     The Starship Enterprise     the junky jalopy on the corner       my Lamborghini     the third grade show about condensation    penguins  chaos   the fourth tree from the north corner of the third lot on East Magnolia Street

Contribute to the random fun by adding ten of your own to the list. Modify at will.

Here are some verbs:

Prestidigitate     hyperventilate     walk     visit   presume    prevaricate     meddle     jeopardize     rebel     recede     recall     refuse     marry     disapprove     amble     are were     want     waffle     cavort     post     employ    drive     travel   search   perform     entertain     contain     cost     appear     reveal     create     exercise     explore     hum

Add ten more. I’m exhausted.

Using some, all or none of the words above, write a minimum of five random, unrelated sentences, a paragraph, a story or a great American novel. Each sentence must have a compound subject of three or more elements. Feel free to have fun with adjectives. Place commas wherever necessary to separate elements for clarity.

(Look for some examples on the Compound Subjects #2 page.) 

Answers to Commas with Restrictive and Nonrestrictive Clauses

The wind that had blown for hours finally calmed. The rain, which started yesterday, kept on until the stream rose and lapped the back doorstep. Serena, who didn’t sleep at all last night, was both grateful for the daylight and fearful of what it would reveal. When she looked out on the property, she saw the small vegetable garden that she had just planted under a foot of water and the larger botanical garden that the place was known for swamped with mud and debris. The grove of birches, which was planted by her ancestors, struggled to remain erect and she feared they would fall before the storm, which was the worst in her memory, packed up the last of its bluster and moved on. Serena, who was eighty-six and childless, was the last of her line. She worked all her life to preserve this property, which began with the sweat of her great-great grandparents, on her own. But she was too old and too alone to come back from a storm like this. She sat in the old rocker, which had been in the house for over a hundred years, put her face in her hands and cried.