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  1. tonten
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    tonten Senior Member

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    comma before "and then"

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by tonten, Feb 13, 2010.

    bleh I've been looking over and over again at one of my sentences in my piece, and I can't decide for the love of god if there supposed to be a comma before "and then"

    He sighed, as he watched Jake squirm hopelessly, and then felt Mary tug him on his sleeve.

    He sighed, as he watched Jake squirm hopelessly and then felt Mary tug him on his sleeve.

    I am not sure what rule I am supposed to follow for this type of sentence.
     
  2. makdadsb
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    makdadsb Member

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    I would put it in, but I would also take out the first one:

    "He sighed as he watched Jake squirm hopelessly, and then felt Mary tug him on his sleeve."

    Not sure if that is correct, but it is what I would do.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    To start with, I would make it two sentences. There are two sequential actions, and no reason to combine them into a single sentence.

    There definitely should not be a comma after sighed. I don't like the as construct at all. Does he sigh the entire time he sees Jake squirm? Are the two actions really synchronous? Also, I'm not convinced that hopelessly is a good adverb choice here. But let's leave that part as it is, other than losing that pesky comma.

    In the second sequential action, felt is superfluous. The reader can readily infer that when Mary tugs, he feels it. Moreover, the preposition on is unnecessary and not really apprpriate.

    Soi this is what I would change it to:
     
  4. m5roberts
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    m5roberts Member

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    you could keep it how it is if you are using parenthetical commas, meaning that anything between the two could be removed without changing meaning. your sentence still makes sense saying "He sighed and then felt Mary tug him on the sleeve."

    however, if you remove the first comma, you have to remove the second. this is because it would break its parenthetical purposes and then would require following the rule of "don't use a comma before a conjunction (and, or, but...) if the part that follows the conjunction could not stand alone as a sentence. you would have "Then felt Mary tug him on his sleeve," leaving you with a fragment.

    so you have options here, but all in all, i would agree with the previous statements that for stylistic purposes, you should maybe try out a couple of ways, including using different sentences. having it a different sentence would make it seem more abrupt and, essentially, Mary is pulling him out of a trance. you may also want to try using dashes - that would make the tugging feel like an interruption.
     
  5. Humour Whiffet
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    Humour Whiffet Banned

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    I agree with you about the parenthesis. In fact, I have spent the afternoon looking through numerous style guides and reference books, and I cannot find any rule that says you must not use a comma in the following construction: “He sighed, as he watched Jake squirm.”

    Although the comma is unnecessary, “as he watched Jake squirm” is in no way defining or restrictive, and, as such, the use of the comma appears optional. In the Penguin Guide to Punctuation, R.L.Trask permits such comma usage. Even with a period after the word “squirm,” the role of the comma is still parenthetical. (It’s just that you don’t need the closing comma if there is a period.)

    That said, use Cogito’s construction and omit the comma—unless you’re a fan of Harold Ross!

    I looked through my other reference books, too, but I couldn’t find much discussion about such comma useage. I guess this is because most writers would put “as he watched Jake squirm” at the start of the sentence, using it as an introductory clause.

    As he watched Jake squirm, he sighed.

    If used as an introductory clause, most guides seem to advise that you use a comma.

    You’ve misstated the stylistic rule (as opposed to a grammatical rule) about a comma before a conjunction. You’ve expressed the rule negatively (don’t use a comma). In fact, the rule (again, a stylistic rule that does vary depending on the guide you are using) is always expressed positively (place a comma before a conjunction introducing an independent clause).

    You can certainly put a comma before a conjunction that introduces a clause that could not stand alone as a sentence. I refer you to the Oxford Style Manual—although I am guessing that other style guides would permit such useage, too. That said, I ‘m not saying to use a comma before such clauses without good reason. Consult a guide to see when it is advisable.
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    'He sighed, when he saw Jake squirm' would make better sense than using 'as' and 'he watched' since a sigh is a very brief act, while 'watched' is ongoing...
     
  7. tonten
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    tonten Senior Member

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    thank you all for all the responses.

    I admit, as a stand alone sentence, my example is a really bad example in what I wanted to ask. As a stand alone sentence, it can surely be rewritten -- but, as part of the paragraph which I took it from, the sentence actually works -- hence the adjective "hopelessly" and using ""as" instead of when.

    Hopefully I can give a better example this time of what I wanted to know, which I think m5roberts has answered, but I want to confirm.


    In a sentence when "and then" is used to portray an action proceeding another such as:


    Jake raised an eyebrow and then shook his head, picking up the litter before Mary could.


    Should there be a comma before "and then"? Or do we follow the rule of not adding a comma because "and" is used to connect 1 independant caluse and 1 dependant clause.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It isn't really a dependent clause. The omitted subject in the second clause is a permitted shortcut for a repeated subject. Logically the second clause is an independent clause that really reads: "Then he shook his head." The comma belongs, but the sentence is still string together three sequential actions. However, the third action, picking up the litter, is poorly joined. It is phrased as a continuing action. whereas the first two actions are event actions.

    You could join the first two actions in one sentsnce, and you should use a comma. However, there is no room in that sentence for the litter (pun intended).
     
  9. Humour Whiffet
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    Humour Whiffet Banned

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    Sorry, but I can’t quite understand where you are coming from here. I’ve had a good look, and can’t find any authority that says you cannot combine the present participle (continuing actions) with other tenses. There are many quality examples of such constructions, and I’ve listed some below. The first three examples are of a similar construction to tonten’s.

    1. The two men adjourned outside for a fistfight while the woman stayed on the coats, sobbing.
    Ian Frazier—Gone to New York

    (Rather than "...and sobbed."

    2. The Vespa had wobbled, no doubt about that; its young driver was inexperienced and it had wobbled too close to where Junior stood, waiting to cross the road.
    Salman Rushdie—The New Yorker

    (Rather than "...while he waited to cross the road.")

    3. A banyan planted alongside the threshing floor only thirty years ago had grown a canopy of forty or fifty feet, and all the men who worked in the stores tended it carefully, watering it with cans.
    Daniyal Mueenuddin—The New Yorker

    Rather than "...and watered it with cans."

    4. Her mother, opening the door quietly, came into the room.

    Fowler’s Modern English Usage on how to use the participle.

    (Rather than "Her mother opened the dooor quietly, and came into the room.)


    5. I shake the plaits out of my hair and lie flat on the back seat, looking up through the rear window.
    Clare Keegan—The New Yorker

    (Rather than "...and look up through the rear window.)
     
  10. m5roberts
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    m5roberts Member

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    I think you misunderstood what I was saying, because you've merely restated what I said in another manner:

    basically, i said "you shouldn't put a comma before a conjunction before a dependent clause"

    you said "you should put a comma before a conjunction before an independent clause".

    Two ways of saying the same thing.
     
  11. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    with 'and' no comma is needed...

    without it, one is...

     
  12. zaffy
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    zaffy Contributing Member

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    This is how I see it. Yes, there are many examples of mixing ed-participles with ing-participles, sometimes it works.
    As for the professional examples quoted, some might read better without ‘ing’.

    How about this …
    Jake raised an eyebrow and shook his head. Mary stooped to pick the litter, but he got to it first.

    And do you have to refer to eyebrow and head action? They are both disapproving gestures, so why use two when one will do.
     
  13. tonten
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    tonten Senior Member

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    Thanks mammamaia!
     
  14. Humour Whiffet
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    Humour Whiffet Banned

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    An application of your rule produces a different result. You say that a comma should not be used before a conjunction that introduces a dependent clause.

    However, such usage is acceptable. I refer you to Line by Line by Claire Kehrwald Cook for full guidance as to when it is acceptable. In brief, she states that it acceptable before a conjunction joining words, phrases, or subordinate clauses that differ in form or emphasis.
     
  15. m5roberts
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    m5roberts Member

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    huh. that's interesting. i was always taught it was an absolute, not a stylistic choice. the school where i'm currently interning also teaches it as an absolute. i guess it just depends on which guide you consult.
     
  16. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Schools teach many things as absolute that are not. It's not a question of which guide you consult, it's a question of keeping it simple and leaving the advanced stuff for higher levels. If you are writing French then there are absolutes: the Académie française sets them. If you are writing English then there is no Académie and the only absolute is that if it works well then it's right, if it doesn't then it's not. The "Rules" are simply what usually works well in a particular formal context. One of my daughter's teachers marked down one of her creative writing assignments because one of the characters in it used non-standard English. That was good characterisation and good creative writing, but that's not what schools are interested in. Look at the opening to Dickens' "Bleak House" and think how your school would mark it. And don't give me "need to know the rules before you break them" -- I'm sure Dickens simply wrote it that way because it sounded good.
     
  17. Humour Whiffet
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    Humour Whiffet Banned

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    That's right. Remember that there is a big difference between a stylistic preference and an absolute grammatical rule (as to whether there even is such thing as an absolute grammatical rule is a thread in itself). Your college has probably formulated its own stylistic rules. You must, therefore follow them. In that sense, it is an absolute rule of your college, but it is not an absolute rule of grammar.

    Style guides all differ. The Chicago Manual of Style says that you must use the serial comma. British newspapers tend to say that their writers must not. Many arguments about comma usage seem to arise when people misinterpret a stylistic rule as an absolute grammatical rule. This can be particularly confusing if a book on grammar does not make it clear when it is expressing a stylistic preference.

    Most U.S. style guides seem to say that you should place a comma before a conjunction introducing an independent clause. However, if you use The Oxford Style Manual, you don’t always have to use the comma in such a sentence.
     
  18. Humour Whiffet
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    Humour Whiffet Banned

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  19. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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  20. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not absolutes, no. Language changes. There is a continuum from Old English to Modern English, but if I wrote this in Old English few if any readers would find it effective.

    What there is is a pair of opposing influences, which Bakhtin termed "centrifugal" and "centripetal". Centipetal influences try to standardise the language, to formalise it, categorise it and regulate it. Centrifugal tendencies try to use language in new ways, to innovate and to find a distinctive identity based on distinctive language use. He also pointed out that both are necessary. Without the centrifugal influence language would stagnate. Without the centripetal influence it would become incomprehensible.

    When anybody asks whether a particular construction is "right" then they are asking a centripetal question. Fine, language needs that centripetal influence. But we need to remember that the answer they will get will be based on the the time that the rules were set down, which will always be some way behind the living language. I was still being taught that it was a dreadful blunder not to put a full stop after each letter of an abbreviation such as "B.B.C." or "I.B.M." years after the BBC and IBM abandoned those full stops as being unacceptably fussy. The style guides have caught up with that one, but they will always be playing catch-up with the language itself.
     
  21. tonten
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    tonten Senior Member

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    Comma before As

    Does anyone know of any good articles on this matter? After going over my own work, I've started to doubt myself in some circumstances where I use or omit the comma before the word "as" in a sentence.

    I know the general rule that when you have a "comma before as", it's usually an action happening concurrently with another one.

    When you "omit the comma", the action in the sentence is usually "the result of", or you are making an analogy instead, then you would also omit the comma like "he's as big as a tree".



    Can anyone help me with these examples that I thought of?

    His speech was interrupted as he vomited blood.
    His speech was interrupted, as he vomited blood.

    They followed hurryingly as an explosion rocked the path
    They followed hurryingly, as an explosion rocked the path.

    He watched as the cow jumped over the moon.
    He watched, as the cow jumped over the moon.

    He clapped his hands as he looked at him.
    He clapped his hands, as he looked at him.

    Does the rules change with comma placement when you use the word "just as"

    The balloon popped just as he sat on it.
    The balloon popped, just as he sat on it.


    My doubts are spawned from this post http://www.writingforums.org/showpost.php?p=597980&postcount=3
    It made me realize that I probably am not using the comma before as correctly in some cases.
     
  22. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Purchase a good grammar guide, such as The Little, Brown Handbook. It will answer this and most of the other punctuation questions you have recently asked.
     
  23. tonten
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    tonten Senior Member

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    I'll look into it, thanks.
     
  24. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ...the solution is simple... simply do NOT use 'as' when you really mean 'when' or need nothing!

    ...see why that use of 'as' is one of the things that drives me 'round the bend, in dealing with new writers' work:

    His speech was interrupted, when he vomited blood.

    ...that's simpler, but still not good writing, since it's passive, not active... this would be better:

    He interrupted his speech with a spew of vomited blood.

    ...the next one is poor writing from the get-go... this works much better:

    They followed more quickly, after an explosion rocked the path

    ...the next is over-worded and should be simplified:

    He watched the cow jump over the moon.

    the last is nonsensical, since you have a confusion of two males... can't tell which is doing what... need to use a name for one, in addition to getting rid of that pesky 'as':

    He looked at Harry and clapped.

    ...what else could he have clapped, his feet?... ;-)

    ...that's just as bad as all the rest of your 'as'es... you clearly mean 'when' there, so why get so wordy, or try to be more specific, since 'when' means exactly that, doesn't it?... so, unless you want to say it took a while to pop and write, 'a few seconds after...' just follow the 'K.I.S.S.!' principle and stick to 'when'...

    ...if you want to be a good writer, make yourself a rule to never use 'as' when you mean 'when'...

    love and hugs, maia
     
  25. zaffy
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    zaffy Contributing Member

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    Mammamaia

    Great answer.
     

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