1. Jowettc
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    Jowettc Contributing Member

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    Darn that comma,

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Jowettc, Feb 7, 2012.

    I'm having trouble with a sentence. I've checked my reference material but I'm still a little lost:

    A pale, lined, hand knocked, with some trepidation, on the studded oaken barrier.

    Are these commas correct or incorrect?
     
  2. Wayne Kernochan
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    Wayne Kernochan Member

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    The commas look okay, but the sentence is a little bumpy. Ya lose me at "Hand knocked"

    Can you maybe break it into two sentences?
     
  3. Wayne Kernochan
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    Wayne Kernochan Member

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    Or maybe lose "some"
     
  4. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    INCORRECT! Horrible! Noooooo!
    Okay. You're using serial commas. Most of them are okay, but you've got one too many commas.
    Let's roll: cruciFixing time! *Theme music*

    "A pale, lined, hand knocked, with some trepidation, on the studded oaken barrier."
    Here is our sentence. The part I've bolded is called a parenthetical, but mostly, parentheticals use parentheses - "brackets". I usually refer to a parenthetical like this as a "commathetical", since it's a cool sounding name for it, I think.
    So, the commathetical can be removed and the sentence still makes sense.

    "A pale, lined, hand knocked on the studded oaken barrier."
    Okay, cool. We can add trepidation back in later. Now, we have our main clause.
    Now the part I've bolded is the part dealing with serial commas - commas that form a series of words. You're trying to describe the hand as being pale and lined. So it's a pale, lined hand. Think about most one-word descriptions you see. You don't call it a "dark, night". It's a dark night. So it's a pale, lined hand.

    "A pale, lined hand knocked on the studded oaken barrier."
    Now we add in trepidation.

    "A pale, lined hand knocked, with some trepidation, on the studded oaken barrier."
    Now to the matter of style. "oaken" is dated. Just say it's an oak barrier. You should leave the "some" in, since "with trepidation" sounds a little too hasty.
     
  5. Ziggy Stardust
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    Ziggy Stardust Active Member

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    For you sentence I'd change it to: A pale, lined hand, knocked, with some trepidation, on the studded oaken barrier.

    But I'd keep it much simpler, something like:

    A trembling pale hand knocked on the oak door.

    "with some trepidation" I think is a bit convoluted and imo "studded oaken barrier" is trying too hard to make a door sound interesting.
     
  6. Wayne Kernochan
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    Wayne Kernochan Member

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    I blame the pot :)

    Which is why I don't write books. I rewrite books :D
     
  7. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    You're missing a serial comma which goes against the question the OP is asking. :p "A trembling, pale hand ..." The serial comma belongs in between adjectives that are all connected to the same noun.
     
  8. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    A pale, lined, hand knocked, with some trepidation, on the studded oaken barrier.
    After the adjectives, this looks like 'hand knocked' is another one, so the reader does a double take.
    It's comma overkill. You don't need them all, anyway:
    A pale lined hand knocked, with some trepidation, on the studded oaken barrier.
    e.g. I live in a large friendly town. --I don't need commas after the adjectives there, either (at least, in British English. We don't sprinkle commas as thickly as you do in the US).
     
  9. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    It does kind of depend on how you're reading it. 'large' and 'friendly' are both adjectives connected to 'town', and should be subject to the serial comma, but some people decide that commas are more for hesitations than anything else, and because they don't hesitate between the words in their speech, they leave it out of their text.
    You might say it without the hesitation, but here in Australia, where we play by British English rules (with the added benefits of a much greater lexicon including "bogan" and "fossicking"), the correct way to write it is a "large, friendly town". Just because you don't speak with a comma/hesitation, doesn't mean it's not there.
     
  10. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    ^^ I am English, and the commas are not mandatory when you have two adjectives like that before a noun. So, "large friendly town" and "large, friendly town" are both equally correct. Put commas in if you want--but be careful not to obscure the meaning. In the OP's example, the commas make the meaning (at first read) hard to understand, so they are a really bad idea. The (well-named although I've never heard of this term before) 'serial' comma completely kills the meaning.

    Commas are only necessary for pausing for the sake of metre in poems--otherwise, they are nothing to do with describing hesitations--that is just an over-simplified explanation that was rife in the British (and I suppose, Australian) system over the last generation or so. I always find US English much clearer on its rules for using commas, although sometimes it leads to a slightly stop-start read as there are so many.
     
  11. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    follow cruci's final version... it's the correct one, for the reasons given...

    it's not a great sentence, though... could used a rewrite...

    first of all, how can we see/know the hand is 'lined' when it's knocking?... in the act of knocking, the hand is clenched into a fist, so the lines won't be showing... and if referring to an aged one, such as mine are these days, the top of a clenched hand is more 'crepey' than 'lined'... i'm looking at two of same as i type!

    then we have the matter of more adjectives than are really needed... why do we have to know it was both pale and lined/crepey at all?...

    and, finally, there's the matter of the 'oaken barrier'... if you mean 'oak door' for pity's sake just say so! ;)
     
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  12. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Totally agree.
     
  13. Kallithrix
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    Kallithrix Banned

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    No, they are not. I'm English too (nuh nuh ne nuh nuh) and I would baulk at a series of adjectives without a serial comma. I generally don't like a series of adjectives used anyway because it ends up like a laudry list of attributes, but if you are using them, you need commas.

    It's like saying that you don't need a comma before a term of address because it reads the same way without it anyway. Well, yeah, but it's still not correct to just write 'yes Sir,' instead of 'yes, Sir.'

    The only time you DON'T use serial commas is when one adjective modifies the other, as in 'a dark red colour' - dark modifies red, not colour, so there's no comma.

    Ya feel me?
     
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  14. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    ^^ We are getting into personal preference here, not rules. It's perfectly usual and acceptable in contemporary British writing not to put commas there. I know US English would put them--as I said, they use commas more.
    The problem in the OPs sentence is that the adjectives, A pale, lined, the action, hand knocked, and the aside/extra information, with some trepidation, all become confused into one incomprehensible list if the sentence is divided up like that.
     
  15. Jowettc
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    Jowettc Contributing Member

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    Thanks all. Interesting comments -- and all helpful.

    After further reference I have arrived at a conclusion:

    The pale, lined hand knocked, with trepidation, on the massive oak door.

    Explanation:

    Hand is the noun. Pale and lined are coordinate adjectives attached to the hand. The hand is both pale and lined. In that case they should be seperated by a comma. It is not that the lines are pale. If they were, then the comma would, i think, be nonsensical in that place.

    With some trepidation becomes, with trepidation. Upon reflection, trepidation in this sense -- with involuntary trembling -- cannot be 'some'. It either is or is not trepidation.

    The studded oaken barrier although meant to convey size and the unsual nature of the door, appears too archaic -- agreed. I have reworded to massive oak door. These adjectives are cumulative and do not require a comma -- it is a door, which is oak and it is an oak door which is massive -- no commas. Additionally, I believe adding any more commas here would be plainly ridiculous.

    Whether the hand is or is not, technically, lined I believe is a matter of art. I believe the narrative description, meant to convey both age and isolation from sunlight, stands. It is necessary in the development of the character imo. Likewise, trepdiation, meant to convey the characters internal state is also valid.

    Thanks for the efforts guys - appreciated.
     
  16. Kallithrix
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    Kallithrix Banned

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    No, you are simply incorrect and incapable of admitting so.
     
  17. Kallithrix
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    Kallithrix Banned

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    Well, it's correctly punctuated all right, but it's still a rather clunky, adjective heavy sentence. Whether it conveys the information you mean it to or not, it just doesn't read very well.
     
  18. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Don't blame the punctuation. The sentenc is groaning at the seams from excessive modifiers.
     
  19. Ziggy Stardust
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    Ziggy Stardust Active Member

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    "Pale" and "lined" are cumulative adjectives, they do not need a comma between them.
     
  20. Lightman
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    Lightman Active Member

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    There should be no comma immediately before hand.
     
  21. Kallithrix
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    Kallithrix Banned

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    No, they are not:

    'Cumulative adjectives are two or more adjectives not separated by commas. In contrast to coordinate adjectives, they do not make sense in any other order and cannot be connected by and.'

    'pale, lined hand' could be written 'lined, pale hand' or 'pale and lined hand', therefore they are coordinate, not cumulative.

    On the other hand, my earlier example IS cumulative; 'deep red colour' cannot be written 'red deep colour' or 'deep and red colour' without changing the meaning.

    There is a lot of incorrect advice on these forums...
     
  22. Ziggy Stardust
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    You're right, mixed them up, my bad. :D

    But seriously, this is a discussion forum, calm down. I stated something, you corrected me, I learned something, you look smart, everyone's a winner! :cool:
     
  23. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you are getting at me kallithrix, here's some more 'bad advice'. No writer in their right mind slavishly follows rules instead of considering how the punctuation may actually OBSCURE the meaning--as those commas certainly do at present. I defy anyone to read that without doing a double take and thinking "what's a hand knocked?" This is why we would not, and often do not, put commas in a sentence like that.
    As cog says, it is an overburdened sentence anyway--that's the real problem. I think the OP should bear all our 'bad advice' and 'I don't get its' in mind instead of just going ahead with it.
     
  24. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just the second comma is superfluous.
    "A pale, lined hand knocked, with some trepidation, on the studded oaken barrier."
    But this sentence is awkward, maybe better to change the order a bit. Like so:

    "With some trepidation, a pale, lined hand knocked on the studded oaken barrier."
     
  25. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    even reordered, it's still a cumbersome, overworded sentence... and both 'lined hand' and 'oaken barrier' still make little to no sense, as i noted in my post on the first page of the thread...
     

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