Comma Question

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Margo
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Comma Question

Post by Margo » May 12th, 2011, 10:56 am

So when I was in college (a long long time ago), one of my English professors told us that it was considered optional (at the time anyway) whether or not we used a comma to separate a clause from the rest of the sentence if the clause would make sense at either the beginning or end of the sentence. Here's an example of one I'm looking at right now.

According to Hmong religion each person had more than one soul.

Which would also still make sense in this form:

Each person had more than one soul according to Hmong religion.

It would not make sense in a sentence like this:

According to Hmong religion, each person had more than one soul, but I doubted Zaj had any.

So here's where I'm perplexed. Is that now out of fashion? Would you guys say it reads more naturally for you with the comma?

POLYMATH, WHERE ARE YOU? As someone who edits professionally, would you suggest including the comma?
Last edited by Margo on May 12th, 2011, 12:04 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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trixie
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Re: Comma Question

Post by trixie » May 12th, 2011, 11:58 am

I'm pretty sure I'm the LAST person you want to chime in with comma advice since I sprinkle them in my ms like Splenda, but I would put two commas in like you've done for the last example. This is likely wrong. Again, don't listen to me. I'm just going to squat here armed with my dictionary and wait for Poly to show up.

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polymath
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Re: Comma Question

Post by polymath » May 12th, 2011, 12:30 pm

Harumph. Who summons the oracle of Hermitage from meditations? Oh, hello, Margo, wicked and tricksy goddess of urban megatropolis pomp and circumstance.

Comma usage's central purpose is to facilitate ease of reading. Alas, effective comma usage is negotiating a waterfall cataract, a writer's burden.

You've invoked the comma use for dependent clause principle and the comma use for restrictive or nonrestrictive clause principle, and implicated the commas bracketing parenthetical dependent clause principle.

"According to Hmong religion each person had more than one soul."

each person: main subject
more than one soul: main object
had: predicate, indicating past preterite possession form of to be
According to Hmong religion: dependent prepositional clause (prefatory), dependent meaning its meaning depends on and adds to the main clause
each person had more than one soul: main clause containing subject, predicate, and object of the dependent clause

Prescriptively, a prefatory dependent clause is followed by a comma.

//According to Hmong religion, each person had more than one soul.//

However, a comma preceding a subsequent dependent clause depends on whether the dependent clause is restrictive or nonrestrictive. Restrictive meaning a main clause's meaning depends on a dependent clause. Nonrestrictive meaning a dependent clause's meaning is independent of a main clause's meaning. In the former case, prescriptively, no comma precedes the dependent clause. In the latter, a comma precedes the dependent clause.

According to Hmong religion, is a restrictive dependent clause. It restricts the meaning of which subjects have more than one soul; therefore, no comma prescriptively indicated, though to facilitate reading ease, one is perhaps a suitable discretionary choice.

//Each person had more than one soul according to Hmong religion.//

The restrictive-nonrestrictive distinction is somewhat tenuous, and often is, so some discretionary latitude exists, so long as a comma choice facilitates ease of reading.

"According to Hmong religion, each person had more than one soul, but I doubted Zaj had any."
Dependent prefatory clause, main clause, independent nonrestrictive clause; therefore, the comma preceding the independent nonrestrictive clause is discretionary due to the conjuntion word but splicing two somewhat independent yet connected clauses.
//According to Hmong religion, each person had more than one soul but I doubted Zaj had any.//

Recasts for illustration purposes;
//According to Hmong religion, each person had more than one soul. [But] I doubted Zaj had any.//
Dependent prefatory clause, main clause. Independent sentence.
//Each person had more than one soul, according to Hmong religion, [but] I doubted Zaj had any.//
Main clause, dependent restrictive parenthetical clause, somewhat independent nonrestrictive clause.

[But] is an optional and perhaps redundant word. Certainly, leaving it out makes for a stronger voice. The independent clause is a verbal irony that contradicts the previous statement and accepted belief systems. And the independent clause is a free direct thought that delicately closes narrative distance. The conjunction word but blunts both the irony and the free indirect thought's impact.

Anyway, back during the tumultuous mid 20th century Postmodern cultural upheaval, there were many downstyle grammar pushes. Some stuck; some prevailed for awhile and reverted, some resisted and refused. Simplifying comma usages was one that went every whichaway. Although the dependent clause and restrictive-nonrestrictive clause principles remained steadfast. Kudos though for your professor's enlightened discretions.
Last edited by polymath on May 12th, 2011, 8:25 pm, edited 4 times in total.
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Margo
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Re: Comma Question

Post by Margo » May 12th, 2011, 1:02 pm

trixie wrote:I'm just going to squat here armed with my dictionary and wait for Poly to show up.
LOL. I know the feeling.

polymath wrote:Harumph. Who summons the oracle of Hermitage from meditations? Oh, hello, Margo, wicked and tricksy goddess of urban megatropolis pomp and circumstance.
Cool! In one morning I've evolved from bacteria to goddess. (Claudie's post at Wicked & Tricksy) That works for me. :P

Your explanation does put a much finer point on it, polymath. Much appreciated.
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polymath
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Re: Comma Question

Post by polymath » May 12th, 2011, 1:30 pm

Margo wrote:
polymath wrote:Harumph. Who summons the oracle of Hermitage from meditations? Oh, hello, Margo, wicked and tricksy goddess of urban megatropolis pomp and circumstance.
Cool! In one morning I've evolved from bacteria to goddess. (Claudie's post at Wicked & Tricksy) That works for me. :P

Your explanation does put a much finer point on it, polymath. Much appreciated.
You're welcome, Ms. Margo.

Yay, evolution. We've come a long way from stardust and a long way yet to go to the final outcome.
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Re: Comma Question

Post by trixie » May 12th, 2011, 3:08 pm

polymath wrote:You've invoked the comma use...
Anyone else picturing their imaginary Margo stooped over a bubbling cauldron, waving her hands through the thick smoke and invoking the Comma? No, that's just me giggling over here? Never mind.

Poly, seriously. You rock my grammatical world. I won't lie, I didn't understand much of your reply. However, that's a good sign. I know if I understood it the first time through, then I obviously was missing something.

Off to read it again. And again. And one more time in hopes that it sticks.

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Re: Comma Question

Post by Cookie » May 12th, 2011, 3:54 pm

trixie wrote:
polymath wrote:You've invoked the comma use...
Anyone else picturing their imaginary Margo stooped over a bubbling cauldron, waving her hands through the thick smoke and invoking the Comma? No, that's just me giggling over here? Never mind.

Yes! And I picture Poly as a Gandalf like wizard imparting his great and vast knowledge of all things grammar on us half-lings.

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Re: Comma Question

Post by polymath » May 12th, 2011, 5:00 pm

Aw gosh shucks, trixie and Cookie, thanks.

Just goes to show how intent sometimes succeeds. I did intend the word invoked to invoke an image of Margo double boiling and trouble toiling over a steaming cauldron. The oracle of Hermitage and wicked and tricksy goddess set it up. Just to make grammar a little bit of fun and magic instead of the otherwise dry topic it is.

After all, I have here ready to hand my grimoire, an ancient magic and secret spell book, though it is a secret hiding in plain sight and not so dry once its mysteries are mastered, quite amusing actually from the way it ducks and twists, doing everything in its power not to dictate imperatively prescriptive rules. Chicago Manual of Style. Its bright orange brick door stop of a codex has come to resemble a well-used grimoire, with its tabbed and flagged and thumbworn pages. Not too coincidentally, the word grimoire is believed to have derived from the French grammaire, name for a grammar book. Thar's real magic in them thar grammars.
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Re: Comma Question

Post by dios4vida » May 12th, 2011, 5:53 pm

polymath wrote:Aw gosh shucks, trixie and Cookie, thanks.

Just goes to show how intent sometimes succeeds. I did intend the word invoked to invoke an image of Margo double boiling and trouble toiling over a steaming cauldron. The oracle of Hermitage and wicked and tricksy goddess set it up. Just to make grammar a little bit of fun and magic instead of the otherwise dry topic it is.

After all, I have here ready to hand my grimoire, an ancient magic and secret spell book, though it is a secret hiding in plain sight and not so dry once its mysteries are mastered, quite amusing actually from the way it ducks and twists, doing everything in its power not to dictate imperatively prescriptive rules. Chicago Manual of Style. Its bright orange brick door stop of a codex has come to resemble a well-used grimoire, with its tabbed and flagged and thumbworn pages. Not too coincidentally, the word grimoire is believed to have derived from the French grammaire, name for a grammar book. Thar's real magic in them thar grammars.
Polymath, you never cease to amaze me. One day I hope to have a fraction of the knowledge you have. And I think the Gandalf image is perfect, though remnants of Jack Sparrow are creeping into that vision thanks to the last sentence. :)

And magic grammar...I'll have to remember that and pull it out next time my family starts laughing at me for being such a word nerd. I'll throw that into the conversation right next to 'lexicon' (one of my all-time favorite words) and the sheer literary nerdiness will blow them off their feet!!
Brenda :)

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Cookie
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Re: Comma Question

Post by Cookie » May 12th, 2011, 6:05 pm

dios4vida wrote:
Polymath, you never cease to amaze me. One day I hope to have a fraction of the knowledge you have. And I think the Gandalf image is perfect, though remnants of Jack Sparrow are creeping into that vision thanks to the last sentence. :)
My brain is exploding from the sheer pop culture awesomeness of that image.

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polymath
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Re: Comma Question

Post by polymath » May 12th, 2011, 6:23 pm

dios4vida wrote:And magic grammar...I'll have to remember that and pull it out next time my family starts laughing at me for being such a word nerd. I'll throw that into the conversation right next to 'lexicon' (one of my all-time favorite words) and the sheer literary nerdiness will blow them off their feet!!
Thanks, dios4vida. I suppose I could adapt Gandalf the Paisley Bucaneer as my avatar.

If your family laughs at your lexical prowess, then it is the real magic of grammar, grammar's power to share meaningful conversation without calling undue attention to itself. Even when grammar does call undue attention, it's meaningful. Though they might get the point and might not fully understand, they are emotionally stimulated by it, which is rhetoric's related persuasive magic too. The pen is mightier than the sword. Any old pen or pencil or crayon will do as a magic wand. Abracadabra.
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Robin
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Re: Comma Question

Post by Robin » May 12th, 2011, 6:35 pm

Cookie wrote:
trixie wrote:
polymath wrote:You've invoked the comma use...
Anyone else picturing their imaginary Margo stooped over a bubbling cauldron, waving her hands through the thick smoke and invoking the Comma? No, that's just me giggling over here? Never mind.

Yes! And I picture Poly as a Gandalf like wizard imparting his great and vast knowledge of all things grammar on us half-lings.
So glad I'm not the only one who imagines Poly as Gandalf! Would love to see that avatar
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Claudie
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Re: Comma Question

Post by Claudie » May 12th, 2011, 7:44 pm

polymath wrote:Not too coincidentally, the word grimoire is believed to have derived from the French grammaire, name for a grammar book. Thar's real magic in them thar grammars.
I'm curious, poly, you have your sources on that? The word grimoire exists in French (with the same usage), too, and I'm really curious to see if it evolved from grammaire. I can't imagine why it would do that, except that the two of them are thick and old tomes.

So if you remember where you heard that, I wanna see!
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polymath
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Re: Comma Question

Post by polymath » May 12th, 2011, 7:45 pm

A quick and dirty wizard of the paisley grammarhood, and say hello to my little friends.
paisleywizard.jpg
paisleywizard.jpg (10.32 KiB) Viewed 2206 times
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Re: Comma Question

Post by polymath » May 12th, 2011, 7:57 pm

Claudie wrote:
polymath wrote:Not too coincidentally, the word grimoire is believed to have derived from the French grammaire, name for a grammar book. Thar's real magic in them thar grammars.
I'm curious, poly, you have your sources on that? The word grimoire exists in French (with the same usage), too, and I'm really curious to see if it evolved from grammaire. I can't imagine why it would do that, except that the two of them are thick and old tomes.

So if you remember where you heard that, I wanna see!
Wikipedia confirmed, as much as that is reliable, and the word's etymology from Collins English Dictionary corroborated an anecdotal legend I heard from a somewhat eccentric English professor. Apparently, grimoire derived from grammaire about when Latin began to decline from French and English academias' scholarly preeminence.
Last edited by polymath on May 12th, 2011, 8:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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