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I have a question about the usage of commas in introductory elements or parenthetical elements following a coordinating conjunction.

I know that a comma in normal usage doesn't follow a coordinating conjunction.

Example: I love cake, and I love icing.

But what if you change things up a bit...

Example:

She baked a cake, and, to avoid having it being eaten so quickly, she put it in the fridge.

or

She baked a cake, and to avoid having it being eaten so quickly, she put it in the fridge.

(Note: The latter sentence does not have a comma after the coordinating conjunction.)

The mall was closed, so, without much thought, they decided to go to the movies.

or

The mall was closed, so without much thought, they decided to go to the movies.

(Note: Again, the latter sentence does not have a comma after the coordinating conjunction.)

Which ones are correct? Why are they correct? What are the rules? I could not find anything on Google that talks about this in detail.

Here are some sentences taken from the New Yorker, one of the most respected publications in editing and grammar, and I'm hoping someone, too, can explain why these sentences do or do not have the comma after the coordinating conjunction:

He was perpetually imploring Lincoln for new weapons, and, in the words of one observer, “he felt he never had enough troops, well enough trained or equipped.”

“I’d be just about to putt a key putt, and he’d say, ‘You don’t believe in the Virgin Mary, do you?’ ”

Why, in the former sentence above, is there a comma following the coordinating conjunction, when the latter sentence does not?

He likes big, noisy motorcycles, and, despite a mild manner, he is famously unself-conscious.

Why is there a comma after "and"? Isn't the "despite a mild manner" portion an introductory phrase for the "he is famously unself-conscious"?

Any help and additional resources covering this topic would be greatly appreciated, as it has been on my mind for the past few days. I would just like some answers. Thanks!

Comments  
Hi James,

Here are a few comments.

As background, I'm not a 'rules' guy, particularly about commas. Lots of other people here are, so they may offer you comments that suit you better.

I've been on a kick for a while to remind people that basically a comma reflects a pause in speech, ie a place where the speaker chose to pause. I've been reminding people of this because a great deal of technical discussion about commas seems to forget that there is any connection whatsoever to speech patterns.

I have a question about the usage of commas in introductory elements or parenthetical elements following a coordinating conjunction.

I know that a comma in normal usage doesn't follow a coordinating conjunction.

Example: I love cake, and I love icing.

I would say that a comma is oftten a good idea if the first part of the sentence is lengthy. The pause signals to the listener/reader that the first part is finished, and gives them a moment to absorb the lengthy meaning.

I would also say that a comma can be used if the speaker wants to surprise the listener in the second part.

Compare these two examples.

He loved her and he married her.

He loved her, and he never spoke to her.

But what if you change things up a bit...

Example:

She baked a cake, and, to avoid having it being eaten so quickly, she put it in the fridge.

I favour commas before and after parenthetical elements, to, well, show that they are parenthetical. I find myself pausing naturally in that way, to give the reader time to absorb and understand my parenthetical thought..

However, I sometimes don't pause if it is just a very short phrase. There is no need to pause in such a case because the reader/listener can absorb it quickly and carry on.

As regards the comma before 'and' in your example above, another consideration that comes into play is that in modern English we seem to want to avoid having too many commas/pauses in a sentence, pehaps to streamline our English a bit or perhaps to avoid seeming overly fussy. I'd tend to avoid the comma before 'and' in your example, particularly because what precedes it is very short.

or

She baked a cake, and to avoid having it being eaten so quickly, she put it in the fridge.

I'd naturally pause before 'to avoid'.

And I wouldn't pause after 'cake'.

(Note: The latter sentence does not have a comma after the coordinating conjunction.)

The mall was closed, so, without much thought, they decided to go to the movies.

I wouldn't pause after 'so'.

or

The mall was closed, so without much thought, they decided to go to the movies.

I'd either pause before and after 'without much thought' or, becuse it is a very short phrase, not pause at all and just expect the listener to absorb it quickly and easily.

(Note: Again, the latter sentence does not have a comma after the coordinating conjunction.)

Which ones are correct? Why are they correct? What are the rules? I could not find anything on Google that talks about this in detail.

Here are some sentences taken from the New Yorker, one of the most respected publications in editing and grammar, and I'm hoping someone, too, can explain why these sentences do or do not have the comma after the coordinating conjunction:

I think my earlier comments apply to these sentences as well.

The key is to ask yourself why the writer/speakerr chose to indicate, or not indicate, a pause.

He was perpetually imploring Lincoln for new weapons, and, in the words of one observer, “he felt he never had enough troops, well enough trained or equipped.”

“I’d be just about to putt a key putt, and he’d say, ‘You don’t believe in the Virgin Mary, do you?’ ”

Why, in the former sentence above, is there a comma following the coordinating conjunction, when the latter sentence does not? Because 'in the words of one observer' is a parenthetical element.

He likes big, noisy motorcycles, and, despite a mild manner, he is famously unself-conscious.

Why is there a comma after "and"? Isn't the "despite a mild manner" portion an introductory phrase for the "he is famously unself-conscious"? The writer/speaker is showing it is parenthetical.

Any help and additional resources covering this topic would be greatly appreciated, as it has been on my mind for the past few days. I would just like some answers. Thanks!

Best wishes, Clive



Hello Clive,

I appreciate the help! That is all incredibly useful.

To summarize: essentially, it up to the writer to place the commas to direct the flow of the sentence, which primarily consists of pauses or breaths. In the end, I am making a much bigger deal out of this than I had originally thought. D'oh!

I guess there isn't an exact rule for comma placement and usage, which is both good and bad. I just worry that I sometimes use too many commas in my writing. For example, when I read many non-fiction books, it appears that writers omit many commas that I would have used. It becomes so annoying to me that it actually distracts me from reading. I can only assume that I have gotten into a poor habit of using commas excessively in my writing.

Examples:

http://www.techi.com/2010/10/a-lesson-in-facebook-history /
http://www.techi.com/2010/09/why-is-the-blogosphere-so-lame /

I guess that this is in part because I have such a difficult time determining whether information is essential or nonessential. Many people seem to have this problem (so I am not alone in the world); however, I guess I will have to use better judgment in the future.

While it still isn't 100-percent clear to me when to use the comma after the coordinating conjunction, I believe I have a much better idea now. I guess that, in the end, I shouldn't worry about it too much.

Thanks again for all of the information!
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Hi Clive and James,

I've been reading many articles about commas... but I couldn't find anything "offical".

On the other hand, all of them suggested that we should use the comma only if NECESSARY.

It was also said that you DON'T write a comma everytime you pause, but you can pause even if there's no comma.

In a way, commas are just tools that are not really related to the spoken "pause" in the spoken English. You do stop at a comma, but we don't put a comma because we stopped. I guess that in the case of a poem, rules are a little bit changed because you want to guide the reader in the way they read the poem. In the case of the poem, the extra commas will affect the rythm of your reading, but not the meaning of it. From what I understood, those commas are unecessary and shouldn't be used.

I hope I helped a little on this topic. If you guys can find an official website for the "official rules" of the commas please tell me!
Don't put a comma after your conjunction! The above poster said he wasn't a "rules guy," and his answer reflected that (no offense, friend). There are rules for commas, and putting one before a parenthetical phrase that follows a coordinating conjunction would be breaking those rules in almost every case.

Here's an excerpt from the only site I managed to find your question explained:

When a parenthetical element — an interjection, adverbial modifier, or even an adverbial clause — follows a coordinating conjunction used to connect two independent clauses, we do not put a comma in front of the parenthetical element.
  • The Red Sox were leading the league at the end of May, but of course, they always do well in the spring. [no comma after "but"]
  • The Yankees didn't do so well in the early going, but frankly, everyone expects them to win the season. [no comma after "but"]
  • The Tigers spent much of the season at the bottom of the league, and even though they picked up several promising rookies, they expect to be there again next year. [no comma after "and"]
Source: http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/commas.htm

So don't do it, or the grammar police will get you! Emotion: smile
Hello.

Re: Introductory elements or parenthetical elements following a coordinating conjunction

There seems to be a total lack of consistency in this respect across the authoritative board of publications that pontificate.

The lack of a de facto standard is irrationally irritating, which is causing a figurative rash.

You will find examples of two commas (traditional parenthesis), one comma (half marking – which is illogical) and no commas.

*American English, in the commercial main, seems to favour the half in, half out approach on the grounds of prettiness, which, as stated, is totally illogical.

*When a parenthetical element — an interjection, adverbial modifier, or even an adverbial clause — follows a coordinating conjunction used to connect two independent clauses, we do not put a comma in front of the parenthetical element.
Source: http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/commas.htm

Note “highbrow” American authors often break this AmE “rule” in favour of approach # three.

My Humble(ish) Opinion

If you are going to mark off a parenthetical interjection, say, mark it off properly, I doubly say i.e. by a PAIR of commas.

By the same absolutist token, it would be logically coherent to NOT mark off “the asides” element of an adjoined composite subordinate clause IF it is structurally sound without the little tadpolly chaps jumping furiously and distractingly all over the page.

As you can see with the above, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with a long and minimally punctuated unit of sense – 41 words, one comma!

American English, I would politely suggest, very often over punctuates and illogically to boot.

That, Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen, would be my commonsensical point of view in face of the comma conundrum posed.

These links may prove useful, and they support what I have offered (see end of the Prof Trask page).

http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/grammar/learnit/learnitv258.shtml
http://www.informatics.sussex.ac.uk/department/docs/punctuation/node14.html#SECTION00045000000000...

Hope the non-help helps.

Be well

Tom (UK)
PS If there is a definitive ONE rule on this, I too would love to hear it.
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She baked a cake, and, to avoid having it being eaten so quickly, she put it in the fridge.

>>This is correct because "to avoid having it being eaten so quickly" is a parenthetical usage. That is, this phrase can be omitted without issue. Parentheticals should be offset by commas or em dashes. If you were to write it plainly, it would be, "She baked a cake, and she put it in the fridge." No parenthetical. I don't understand why "being" is there, though.

The mall was closed, so, without much thought, they decided to go to the movies.

>>This is correct for the same reason as above. "Without much thought" is parenthetical, a phrase we could enclose in parentheses without changing the sentence. The mall was closed, so (without much thought) they decided to go to the movies.

“I’d be just about to putt a key putt, and he’d say, ‘You don’t believe in the Virgin Mary, do you?’ ”

>>This is not a parenthetical usage. There is nothing here you could wrap in parentheses. All you have is an independent clause following a main clause. Independent clauses are normally offset with commas between conjunctions.

He likes big, noisy motorcycles, and, despite a mild manner, he is famously unself-conscious.

Why is there a comma after "and"? Isn't the "despite a mild manner" portion an introductory phrase for the "he is famously unself-conscious"?


>>For the same reason as in the first example. "Despite a mild manner" is a parenthetical phrase. It is not introducing the idea but adding to it.

I considered not adding opinion here because it's been so long since anyone posted, but I thought that just in case someone needed real knowledge and Google brought them to this, like it did me, they should know something from a person who is a rules person.

Chryse
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