Punctuation with Attribution
An attribution is a phrase that describes who said or wrote something. It is stated parenthetically before, in the midst of, or after a statement or question (it is basically an introductory phrase that can be located elsewhere than at the head of a sentence), but writers often erroneously omit a comma required to help frame the attribution. The following sentences illustrate variations in this type of error, and discussion and revision following each one explains and demonstrates correct treatment.
1. In the future, Smith says she looks forward to having her team work more with data analytics.
Without a comma after says to correspond to the one following future, this sentence appears to awkwardly state that it is known in the present that in the future Smith will say that she looks forward to having her team work with more data analytics. But “Smith says” is an attribution, so the phrase should be bracketed by a pair of commas: “In the future, Smith says, she looks forward to having her team work more with data analytics.”
2. As rooftop solar panels become more common, company executives say they need new products that will distinguish the business from its many competitors.
The error in this sentence is not as obvious as the one in the previous example. However, the implication here is that the company executives are making a statement at the same time as rooftop solar panels become more common. This may be technically accurate, but it’s not the point of the sentence. “Company executives say” interrupts the sentence to identify the source of the statement: “As rooftop solar panels become more common, company executives say, they need new products that will distinguish the business from its many competitors.”
3. There are about 365.25 days in a year according to NASA.
Because of the lack of internal punctuation in this sentence, it appears to quantify the number of days in a specific typed of year—one that is according to NASA. An attribution, regardless of whether it precedes, interrupts, or follows a statement, should be set off from that statement. If the attribution appears at the head or tail of the sentence, however, only one comma is necessary to set it off from the main clause: “There are about 365.25 days in a year, according to NASA.”
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