1. lameri
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    lameri Senior Member

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    Or (explanatory)

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by lameri, Apr 20, 2011.

    Are the commas necessary (or some other punctuation) in a sentence like this?

    Flat breads, or tortillas, are widely used in Mexico.

    I wouldn't like to enclose it in parentheses, as I will be using Tortilla from then on.

    Thanks!
     
  2. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    probably are necessary. They indicate a slight pause and you would say it with pauses around the aside. If you say "flat breads or tortillas are..." it makes it seem like they're 2 separate things which may both be widely used in Mexico, which is then contradictory and a headache. :p
     
  3. Leonardo Pisano
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    Leonardo Pisano Active Member

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    Yes, I would use the commas to express that they are equal terms. You could also place it between "-".
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It is a parenthetical phrase, a phrase that provides clarification or supplementary information, andshould be enclosed in commas, parentheses, or em-dashes.

    Just like the prededing sentence, which could also be expressed in either of the following:

    It is a parenthetical phrase (a phrase that provides clarification or supplementary information) and should be enclosed in commas, parentheses, or em-dashes.

    It is a parenthetical phrase -- a phrase that provides clarification or supplementary information -- and should be enclosed in commas, parentheses, or em-dashes.

    In terms of strength of the separation of the phrase, parentheses are stronger and more obtrusive than commas, and em-dashes are the strongest of all.
     
  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    yes, they're necessary... could be replaced with em dashes, if you prefer...
     
  6. Finhorn
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    Finhorn Senior Member

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    If it doesn't sound like a parenthetical phrase to you, try replacing "or" with "locally called" or "tortillas, a type of flat bread, are" -- "Or" is more commonly used when making a choice. Because there's no choice in the sentence, it sounds odd and makes the commas look odd. By taking it out completely I think that the sentence is clearer and the punctuation looks better.
     
  7. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    There is a choice - of whether you call it flat bread or tortillas. It is offering the choice to the reader, so even though the writer might go on to call them tortillas for the rest of the piece, it is up to the reader to call them whichever they like.

    For a non-fiction piece it's a good clear sentence. Maybe the flow isn't great for a novel, but it's better to introduce "concept, or specialist name", rather than the other way around. Tiny thing, but helps out the reader. :)
     
  8. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    In a sentence like this,

    - commas: Flat breads, or tortillas, are widely used in Mexico.
    - em-dashes: Flat breads--or tortillas--are widely used in Mexico.
    OR
    - brackets (US Eng: 'parentheses'): Flat breads (or tortillas) are widely used in Mexico.

    are MANDATORY, end of story!
     
  9. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    As others have said, "or tortillas" is a parenthetic phrase, and so needs to be set off from the rest of the sentence. If you omit the commas:
    Flat breads or tortillas are widely used in Mexico.​
    means you don't know whether it's flat bread or tortillas that are used.

    Incidentally, my style guide says not to italicize tortillas, but check yours.

    I'm surprised that nobody has been along yet to tell you to rephrase the whole sentence to get rid of the passive voice :D (I'm not going to, I think it's fine.)
     
  10. Finhorn
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    Finhorn Senior Member

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    Get rid of the passive voice!! :)

    Melzaar, maybe it's late and I can't read. It is late for me and there could be a correlation but I read it as people in Mexico have a choice but the reader was receiving information so an 'or' sounded awkward. Almost like "Flat breads are widely used or tortillas are widely used."
     
  11. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    That would be what "flat breads or tortillas" would do, hence the need for commas. :p
     
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    in this case, the passive voice seems to be necessary and not a problem... what would you suggest as an active alternative?
     
  13. zaffy
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    zaffy Contributing Member

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    If I understand you correctly, I agree.

    I would put -

    Flat breads (tortillas) are widely used in Mexico.
    Or
    Flat breads, also called tortillas, are widely used in Mexico.
    Or
    In Mecixo tortillas, also known as flat breads, are widely used.

    Also, is it flat bread or flat-bread or flatbread?
    And is flatbread a mass noun?
     
  14. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wouldn't suggest an active alternative: I think the passive voice is the most effective way to communicate that idea. But for some people (including some around here) not using passive voice seems to be a religious dogma like not eating certain foods or not using hookers on Thursdays.
     
  15. Trish
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    Trish I've been deleted.. again Contributor

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    :eek: Why am I always the last to know?
     
  16. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i don't find that to be so, dig... though some here might be agin it across the board, i think the more seasoned writers on the site recognize passive's usefulness in the right circumstances...
     
  17. amementomori
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    amementomori New Member

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    In Mexico, flat breads -- or tortillas -- are widely used. [Is this sentence now written in the active form?]
     
  18. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Nope. You need an actor, and a more active verb. Your sentence will do more than just sit like a slab of flatbread.

    The Mexican people serve a variety of flatbreads -- or tortillas -- with their meals.

    In a sentence written in passive voice, the subject doesn't do anything. It merely is. Correspondingly, the verb is usually derived from to be: Is, are, was, etc.

    Passive voice is not inherently bad. You need it for describing state, condition, or attributes, which is why the language supports passive voice. But stories need activity and movement, and that comes from the sentences in active voice.
     
  19. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's not even what the first sentence means, though. It would be "The Mexican people use flatbreads -- or tortillas -- widely." except it doesn't sound as good. It's not as punchy, needs the hyphens instead of just commas, and the focus of the sentence has changed from bread to people so the amendment about what to call them seems tacked on, rather than the thrust of the sentence being to say, "hey, look, I'ma call them tortillas from now on, okay guys?" like the original sentence does. If the rest of the paragraph is about the bread rather than the dining habits of Mexicans, you'd want to emphasis the bread as the subject, so put it first, and keep the focus on it. There is nothing wrong with the passive voice there, provided it comes in the correct context. It certainly reads like good non-fiction to me.
     
  20. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    As I already indicated, the passive voice is appropriate and necessary for many things. My goal in constructing an active sentense was not to improve upon the previous sentence, but to illustrate the difference between a sentence in passive voice and one in active voice.

    No, they are not equivalent. They were not meant to be equivalent.
     
  21. zaffy
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    zaffy Contributing Member

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    Goal achieved
     
  22. John Yeoman
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    John Yeoman Banned

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    Commas are necessary in a sentence for only two reasons: syntax or emphasis. In the sentence you give, commas are not necessary. But if you wished to add a pause, deliberately, for emphasis (as with the term 'deliberately' here) they are legitimate.

    Interestingly, commas or the equivalent were inserted in texts shortly after the Middle Ages as a prompt to tell the orator when to draw breath. As reading became increasingly visual rather than oral, commas were used largely to articulate the meaning units.

    Modern editors tend to strike out commas used solely for emphasis. It is the author's sacred task to write them back in, again.
     
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  23. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yes they are. They're there for syntax, not emphasis. The meaning of the sentence changes if you take them out, as others have pointed out.
     

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