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  1. jp896
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    jp896 New Member

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    Comma?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by jp896, Jan 18, 2011.

    I have a hard time understanding why there is a comma in the sentence: She would have scorned to do it, if she had been spitted on the horns of a mad cow. It seems like if she had been spitted on the horns of a mad cow is a dependent clause and therefore not needed. can someone please enlighten me.
     
  2. The Degenerate
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    The Degenerate Active Member

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    A dependent clause needs a comma. It's an independent clause that doesn't.

    "if she had spitted on the horns of a dead cow" is a dependent clause because of the ,if. Simply writing, "She had been spitted on the horns of a dead cow" by removing ,if changes it to an independent clause. It's the if that makes it a dependent clause. Or you could nix the comma entirely and you would still have just an independent clause. But the meaning changes. See my post below.

    But Bronte was in love with the comma anyway. You may want to look for a more contemporary example.
     
  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    There are times when commas are used for dramatic pauses. Just out of curiosity, where is this example from?
     
  4. The Degenerate
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    The Degenerate Active Member

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    Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. A great read, but Bronte's style is fairly high-brow, and she uses commas religiously.
     
  5. jp896
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    jp896 New Member

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    I thought a comma wasn't needed if the dependent clause is after the independent clause.
     
  6. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Creative writing doesn't always follow the same rules that everyone's taught in school. Also keep in mind that the book was written a long time ago, so the standards we have now are much different. I would recommend flipping through some contemporary books by various authors to see how commas are used in creative writing.
     
  7. The Degenerate
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    The Degenerate Active Member

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    Let's look at it from two perspectives:

    She would have scorned to do it, if she had been spitted on the horns of a mad cow.

    This implies that the narrator is making a sarcastic statement. She would have scorned to do it. Pssh, if only she had been spitted on the horns of a dead cow.

    Without the comma:

    She would have scorned to do it if she had been spitted on the horns of a mad cow.

    An assessment. No sarcasm interjected. It's almost an absolute, a definite. The only way she would have scorned to do it was if she had been spitted on the horns of a mad cow. But of course, this is silly, and loses its sarcastic impact without the comma. This was a conscious choice by Bronte.

    The power of the comma. There's a brilliant article on it in the new Writer's Journal.

    Commas change the meaning of sentences entirely. Like the famous book, Eats, Shoots, and Leaves.

    The kowala bear walks into a bar. Has some food, shoots a gun, then gets up. The bartender says, "Why did you do that?" The bear says, "I'm a kowala. That's what I do. Look it up in the dictionary." The bartender looks it up. "Kowala. Eats, shoots and leaves." The bartender wouldn't have had the problem with that bear if a simple proofreader would have looked at the definition and wrote instead, "Kowala. Eats: shoots and leaves."

    Notice how the comma completely changes the meaning of the sentence? I love commas.

    Even syntax changes the meaning of sentences. Look at these two examples:

    He goes down.

    Down he goes.

    They have the same words, yet the first sentence is more dramatic, serious. He goes down. Could have fallen. Is no doubt in pain.

    The second sentence has a more humorous tone. Down he goes implies that he is being poked fun at, made to be embarrassed.

    It's important to pay attention to things like this when writing. Your sentences themselves, from your syntax, to your rhythm, to how you use commas, can completely reflect what is happening in your story. And this is what separates creative writing from traditional. This is where the creativity truly comes into play. And it's so rewarding when you get these sorts of things right.
     
  8. jp896
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    jp896 New Member

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    Thank you very much for all of your help.
     
  9. Spacer
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    Spacer Active Member

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    It's not needed. But it is optional in that position. It might make it easier to read, or give a connotation of a pause. I might make such a pause more pronounced in dialog by inserting a dialog tag there.
     
  10. UberNoodle
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    UberNoodle Senior Member

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    Commas are great. In general, I read a sentence without the suspect comma and I consider what affect that absence has. Sometimes the comma is needed simply to interupt an unintended reading allowed by the comma's absence. Other times the comma denotes dramatic pause or an afterthought or addendum to the construction before it.

    I'm also interested in the OP's questions. How would these be? Correct, I think.

    • The car was stylish but incredibly slow.
    • The car looked fast, but that was all.
    • It was a great book and highly enjoyable.
    • It was a great book, and I loved every second of reading it.
    • He's loud, obnoxious and arrogant, but he's my friend.
    • He's really hard to like, and I guess that's why nobody here does!
    • Throw a prawn on the barbie, and don't forget to grab a beer.
     
  11. Spacer
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    Spacer Active Member

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    Numbers 2, 4, 5c, 6, and 7 are all examples of the same thing: Two totally different sentences (independent clauses) joined by using a comma and a conjunction. You can easily tell that the two parts would parse as complete sentences on their own.

    "stylish but slow" is a compound adjective. No comma in sight.

    You should see that the difference between 3 and 4 is that the former does not have anything resembling a clause after the conjunction. It is in fact a totally different sentence structure: "It was" is common, and "this and that" attempts to be a compound something. Indeed, "It was this" and "It was that" are both correct sentences. But, they don't form a proper compound because they are different kinds of things. The first is a predicate nomative and the second is a predicate adjective. So you said something like "It was this and red." It is a faulty parallelism.

    5a is a list comma. 5b is optional according to many books, but I find it generally harder to read and in more complex sentences you need it anyway to disambiguate or at least to make it less jarring. So get in the habit of always using it.
     
  12. evelon
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    evelon Active Member

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    So true. Adhering too strictly to the rules of grammar tends to stifle creative writing. But I am a bit of a stickler for commas. And I don't necessarily agree that some of the contemporary authors are the best examples of good writing.

    Standards are not as high as they were and glaring errors are everywhere.


    This headline was front page on a national magazine in UK. (Yours Magazine - just before Christmas.)

    'FREE DVD TO EACH OF OUR READERS WORTH 9.99
     
  13. UberNoodle
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    UberNoodle Senior Member

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    In regard to my original list here:

    • The car was stylish but incredibly slow.
    • The car looked fast, but that was all.
    • It was a great book and highly enjoyable.
    • It was a great book, and I loved every second of reading it.
    • He's loud, obnoxious and arrogant, but he's my friend.
    • He's really hard to like, and I guess that's why nobody here does!
    • Throw a prawn on the barbie, and don't forget to grab a beer.

    Thanks for a great response.

    In (5), my first instinct was to put a comma after the second adjective, but I fell foul to all the "golden rules" and vitriole about list commas. I think that without the comma, the last two adjectives become a pair, at least visually, and I don't like that.

    For (3), I should have written, The book was great and highly enjoyable. That way, the list contains the same types of words. I can't believe I broke one of the tactics for error checking that I teach my TOEIC students!

    I've been teaching English for nearly 8 years now, but it's all conversational and almost entirely functional. Although I'm always teaching grammar, everything is spoken, so I very rarely touch on punctuation. Then I come online, where everybody else is confused by the huge conglomerate rock of knowledge fragments that they find there. ;)
     
  14. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    What makes you say that?
     
  15. evelon
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    evelon Active Member

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    I think all you have to do is read a newspaper - any newspaper and you'll find errors. I don't expect everything should be 100% perfect, but some errors are just down to incompetence.

    The example I gave earlier in the thread, the headline in the magazine, is typical of the errors that seem to go un-noticed by the proofreaders and editors.

    'FREE DVD TO EACH OF OUR READERS WORTH 9.99'


    It's a basic error that shouldn't have happened in the first place and even though it did, it should have been spotted and amended before it hit the bookstands.

    There are many more.
     
  16. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes it is, and yes it should have been. But newspapers have been making blunders like that for as long as they have been published. I'm not convinced things are getting worse.
     
  17. evelon
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    evelon Active Member

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    Yes they have. But sloppy english does seem to more prevelant. Maybe it's me,noticing more.

    Got to confess that it's difficult to read anything without mentally proof-reading.
     
  18. Spacer
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    Spacer Active Member

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    What is TOEIC?
     
  19. Spacer
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    Spacer Active Member

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    Newspapers, ads, street signs, and other "professional" stuff is not proofed like it once was. I think the ease of producing typeset material took the oversight and editors out of the mix.

    A city sign in a park near me reads, in part, "YOUR ON CAMERA". Some day I'm going to take a Sharpee to it.
     

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