3 Clarifications Thanks to Commas

By Mark Nichol

The omission of commas in a sentence can damage its comprehensibility. Employed according to the statement’s structural requirements, they clarify the syntax and therefore the meaning. Here are three sentences repaired with the assistance of one or two of these punctuation marks.

1. “Egyptian boys held posters of Ahmed Hussein Eid who was fatally stabbed by three bearded men during his funeral procession.”
One might misread this photo caption and come away with the impression that the victim was stabbed during his funeral procession. However, the subject of the image is boys in a funeral procession carrying posters of the victim; the explanation of the victim’s fate is parenthetical — nonessential to the sentence — and should thus be set off by commas: “Egyptian boys held posters of Ahmed Hussein Eid, who was fatally stabbed by three bearded men, during his funeral procession.

2. “Several job schedulers like Quartz and Flux are available on the market.”
This sentence reads as if Quartz and Flux have already been mentioned, which is not the case. Because they are being introduced, the phrase in which they are mentioned should be parenthetical: “Several job schedulers, like Quartz and Flux, are available on the market.” Better yet, though like is often interchangeable with “such as,” in this case, the latter choice is the preferable one.

3. “The State Senate voted 29 to 5 to approve a revised version of the deal, and a few hours later, the State Assembly also passed the updated legislation by a vote of 54 to 12.”
This sentence is contradictory: It states that that one legislative body passed a bill by a particular vote, and then adds that another group did the same thing — passed a bill with a certain split of yes and no votes — but then provides a different vote result. The statement thus needs to be amended to indicate that the simple outcome — passage of the bill — was replicated, but that the initial vote was not.

The solution? Insertion of a comma that changes the meaning by setting the second vote count off from the rest of the sentence: “The State Senate voted 29 to 5 to approve a revised version of the deal, and a few hours later, the State Assembly also passed the updated legislation, by a vote of 54 to 12.”

Or, more elegantly, transform the appended parenthetical phrase into an interjected one by moving it to an earlier position: “The State Senate voted 29 to 5 to approve a revised version of the deal, and a few hours later, the State Assembly also passed, by a vote of 54 to 12, the updated legislation.”

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5 Responses to “3 Clarifications Thanks to Commas”

  • Eugenia Leftwich

    I am a freelance copy editor who can always use another reference book.

    Thank you.

    Eugenie Leftwich

  • Eugenia Leftwich

    The comma has always been one of my favorite bits of punctuation for clarity and grace.

  • Rick Crawford

    Thanks for the great tips. Grammar is so important.

  • Laura

    Perhaps I am missing something. How does someone get fatally stabbed during his funeral procession? Wouldn’t he already be dead?

  • Laura

    Oops. I read the correction incorrectly as well as the original. I might separate this into two sentences.

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