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Comma Down—Commas in a Series / Compound Subjects (#2) Wherever You Find Them

The subject of a sentence performs the verb. It usually falls at the beginning of a simple sentence, but it can follow introductory phrases with prepositions and participles and other introductory elements. (See previous post titled “Commas After Introductory Prepositional and Participial Phrases.”) In some cases, it can even follow the verb.

Most of the time the subject is pretty obvious. Sometimes, though, you might have to dig for it. And when it consists of multiple elements, those elements need to be separated from one another with commas.

  1. The house, the car, the cat and the kids were costing Josh and Jackie a fortune! (multiple, single-word subjects at the beginning of the sentence)
  • Paying all their bills dutifully, Josh, Jackie, Jillian, James and Jojo had little left for fun. (multiple, single-word subjects following an introductory participial phrase)
  • Dining in Newark, taking tuba lessons, repainting the mural on the ceiling and climbing trees in Madagascar were dreams that the family could never afford. (multiple gerunds acting as nouns at the beginning of the sentence)
  • Why were they so poor? Were Jojo’s diamond cat-collar, her trendy kitty wardrobe, her three-story cat condo designed by an up-and-coming architect, her custom-built backyard catio and her imported Mediterranean kitty delicacies to blame? (multiple complex subjects following the verb in a question)
  •  “That’s it!” cried Josh. “There’ll be no more fancy clothes, expensive jewels, luxury condos or extravagant treats for you!” (multiple subjects following verbs, adverbs and an adjective)
  • The condo, the catio, the clothes, the collar and the caviar brought in a lot of money at the auction.  (multiple, single-word subjects at the beginning of the sentence)
  • Josh, Jackie, Jillian and James piled in the car singing, “Newark, here we come!” (multiple, single-word subjects at the beginning of the sentence)
  • Perched on the window sill, Jojo watched them go. She licked her paw, washed her face, jumped down, turned her nose up at the bowl of kibble in the kitchen and made her way to the secret place behind the couch that was hers alone. No one found the slit she tore in the sofa where she hid her one remaining possession. She pulled out the tiny gold-and-emerald tiara and batted it around, wistfully remembering happier times.

           (There’s nothing here that fits this lesson. I just wanted to finish the story.)

As in the other Commas in a Series posts on this site, I have not used the superfluous Oxford comma anywhere here. (See the Oxford Comma post near the beginning of the Comma Down strand.) If you are an Ox fan, you’ll want to place a comma right before the and in each series of subjects. Please, if you do it, know that it’s a commitment.  Be consistent.

If you’ve gone through the previous Commas in a Series posts, you’ll find that the same rules apply here. You’re probably pretty good at it by now!

Now for Some Practice:

Each sentence below has a compound subject without adequate punctuation. Place commas where they belong. (Look for answers on the Commas in a Series / Adverbs page.)

  1. Green grass purple crocuses blue skies and red-breasted robins are all signs of spring in New England.
  2. Where are the petits fours the deviled eggs the stuffed grape leaves and the smoked trout croquettes that I made for the party?
  3. If you think about it subjects in a series predicates in a series adverbs in a series and adjectives in a series all follow the same rules.
  4. Paying the bills making the bed mowing the lawn and scrubbing the bathtub are all tasks for which homeowners are responsible.
  5. To me skiing understanding football running anywhere ever and not eating all the chocolate are all harder than putting commas in this sentence.
  6. There are anchovies pineapple chunks spicy sausage and hunks of potato to be picked off that pizza before I’ll deem it edible.

Get Fancy

Using the above sentences from Jojo’s sad story as models, try your hand at writing original, correctly punctuated sentences with compound subjects.

Examples for Compound Subjects #1:       

The fourth tree on the north corner of the third lot on East Magnolia Street, my Lamborghini, the junky jalopy on the corner and my last boyfriend and could tell you a really funny story if only any of them had a brain.

Cats, corgis, camels, cows and cobras could conceivably coexist but careful control to counteract chaos is critical.

Barbie’s Dream Career, Barbie’s Dream House, Barbie’s Dream Car and Barbie’s Dream Body Measurements create a world that for me can only exist in dreams.

The muffler-free roar of the semi up ahead, the souped-up vroom of the Corvette on my tail and the super-sonic hum of the Tesla in the far-left lane created a traffic cacophony of epic proportions.

Keyboards, screens and word-processing programs are life changers, but paper, pens, pencils and paper clips still have a special place in my heart.