L. Trask and others make use of the words `weak interruption' to define when bracketing commas may be used. Is this just a syntactic definition?
(Trask)
The rule is this: a pair of bracketing commas is used to mark off a weak interruption of the sentence, that is, an interruption which does not disturb the smooth flow of the sentence.

Smooth flow? I'm not sure what that means in precise terms. The author later states:
In each case a weak interruption has been set off by a pair of bracketing commas...in every one of these examples, the weak interruption set off by bracketing commas could, in principle, be removed from the sentence, and the result would still be a complete sentence that made good sense.

Syntax: complete sentence. Semantics: good sense. Now, this is not necessarily a definition; it may be a comment that does not apply to every instance of bracketing comma use. But then he remarks:
This is always the case...and you find you can't remove those words without destroying the sentence, you have done something wrong.

There are a number of common words which typically introduce weak interruptions containing complete sentences. Among the commonest of these are although, though, even though, because, since , after, before, if, when and whenever.
Now, please consider this:
If I win the lottery, I shall be rich.
I feel that the comma is used in an acceptable way. But `If I win the lottery' cannot, surely, be viewed as a weak interruption. If we remove it, the sentence may make sense, but the wrong sense. This will be the case for most instances in which if-conditions are expressed. The interruption is in no sense weak.
Comments appreciated,
R.
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There are a number of common words which typically introduce weak interruptions containing complete sentences. Among the commonest of these ... This will be the case for most instances in which if-conditions are expressed. The interruption is in no sense weak.

Well, he said, in effect, that 'if' and like words typically introduce weak interruptions. He didn't say its presence implies one. I think he meant that, given that you have such an interruption, it wouldn't be unusual to introduce it with an 'if', if I've understood it right.

john
(Email Removed) (rolleston) wrote on 01 Jan 2004:
There are a number of common words which typically introduce weak interruptions containing complete sentences. Among the commonest of these ... This will be the case for most instances in which if-conditions are expressed. The interruption is in no sense weak.

Removing the conditional clause leaves a "good" sentence and "a complete sentence that (makes) good sense", as Trask says (1). "I shall be rich" is only a prediction, and the conditional, it seems to me, is a weak interruption simply because it is not explanatory. The speaker is not rich, and winning the lottery is a virtually unreal condition.
What about a "when" clause, eg, "When my inheritance is transferred to my bank account tomorrow, I shall be rich"? This is not a prediction but a statement of fact. He does say that "if" and "when" "typically introduce weak interruptions containing complete sentences". That should mean that they don't always do so.

He also gives an example that seems very iffy to me:

"Bracketing commas always come in pairs, unless one of them would come at the beginning or the end of the sentence, and they always set off a weak interruption which could in principle be removed from the sentence:
My father, who hated cricket, always refused to watch me play."

It seems to me that this example is not supportive of his case. Without the bracketed phrase, the sentence does not make "good" sense. I suppose it could, in principle, be removed if the context made it clear that what his father refused to watch him play was cricket and that why he refused to watch was that he hated cricket, but that relies on the entire discourse and not the sentence alone. Here is an example of a remaining sentence that is grammatical and makes the wrong sense:
My father always refused to watch me play.
I think you've got a good point here. It appears that Mr Trask has not given enough thought to the importance of semantics and the effect the removal of what he labels as "always . . . a weak interruption" might have on the entire discourse.
(1) http://www.cogs.susx.ac.uk/local/doc/punctuation/node13.html

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Now, please consider this: If I win the lottery, I shall be rich. I feel that the comma is used ... This will be the case for most instances in which if-conditions are expressed. The interruption is in no sense weak.

I don't see this as an example of "interruption" because there's only one comma, not a "bracketing" pair as in "By this time next year, if I win the lottery, I shall be rich."

Odysseus
L. Trask and others make use of the words `weak interruption' to define when bracketing commas may be used. Is ... This will be the case for most instances in which if-conditions are expressed. The interruption is in no sense weak.

And it's in no sense an interruption, either: if such conditionals didn't come in pairs they wouldn't mean anything. If I haven't misunderstood you, you seem to have made a jump from "bracketing commas" to "all commas".
(I don't really see why the expression "bracketing commas" needs to be used, since as we have seen in a recent thread a bracket is one thing, and a comma another, but either may be used to mark a parenthesis. There seems to be interference from American layman's language, in which "parenthesis" is unhelpfully used to mean what over here is called a "bracket", in much the same way as "period" has there come to mean not "sentence" but "full stop".)
Mike.
L. Trask and others make use of the words `weak interruption' to define when bracketing commas may be used. Is this just a syntactic definition?

The term has no precise definition. It was merely the best label I could think of when I was writing my book. My idea was to find some way of distinguishing the use of bracketing commas from the use of dashes.
Consider one of my examples:
"The destruction of Guernica and there is no doubt that the destruction was deliberate horrified the world."

Here the interruption is so abrupt that bracketing commas are out of the question.
(Trask) The rule is this: a pair of bracketing commas is used to mark off a weak interruption of the ... does not disturb the smooth flow of the sentence. Smooth flow? I'm not sure what that means in precise terms.

There is no possibility of giving a mathematical-style definition. But the Guernica example shows that there exists a real difference between abrupt interruptions and what I am calling "weak interruptions".
There are a number of common words which typically introduce weak interruptions containing complete sentences. Among the commonest of these ... This will be the case for most instances in which if-conditions are expressed. The interruption is in no sense weak.

You have a point, but I made this decision quite deliberately.

Please bear in mind that my book (The Penguin Guide to Punctuation) is written for readers who are very uncertain punctuators. It is meant to be useful to such readers. It is not aimed at skilful punctuators who are looking for guidance on subtle points, and it is not a scholarly treatise.
Accordingly, I made every effort to keep the book easy to follow. Another guide to punctuation currently in print distinguishes fourteen uses of the comma. My view is that a reader encountering a blizzard like this will find his heart sinking, and will very likely give up.

I therefore determined to keep the comma chapter as simple as possible. Originally I recognized only three uses of the comma, but a colleague who read a draft persuaded me to add a fourth, the one involving deletion of repeated material. I'm still not sure this addition was a wise decision.
I deliberately decided to include adverbial subordinate clauses under the rubric of weak interruptions. As you point out, this classification is questionable, but I decided that it was preferable to recognizing yet another distinct use of the comma.

If you are a skilful punctuator, this book will be of little use to you. But I was writing for the hundreds of millions who have no idea how to use commas.
And I might add that the comma chapter was the hardest chapter to write.
Larry Trask
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Now, please consider this:

Uh! I wish I hadn't written that. Looking at it
again, it looks so pompous. And then there's
that inelegantly repeated `now'.
I feel that the comma is used in an acceptable way. But `If I win the lottery' cannot, surely, be viewed as a weak interruption. If we remove it, the sentence may make sense, but the wrong sense.[/nq]^
And that's an incorrectly used gapping comma.
Nevertheless, and despite the stylistic flaws, I think the argument is still worth thinking about. I thought I might just add a little to it. Some authors use the `makes good sense' rule to allow commas for non-defining relative clauses, and to forbid them for the other case. That is a case where the syntax rule alone is not enough. But, as I have said, neither rule works for if-conditions. And I suspect that is the case for some of the other words in Trask's list.

R.
ps To say `syntax rule' and `good sense rule' is probably to extend things a little beyond what has been claimed.
Thus spake Mike Lyle:
L. Trask and others make use of the words `weak interruption' to define when bracketing commas may be used. Is this just a syntactic definition?

Now, please consider this: If I win the lottery, I ... if-conditions are expressed. The interruption is in no sense weak.

And it's in no sense an interruption, either: if such conditionals didn't come in pairs they wouldn't mean anything. If ... called a "bracket", in much the same way as "period" has there come to mean not "sentence" but "full stop".)

The first half is a conditional clause, made so by the "if". Standard comma rules dictate that a conditional clause coming first in the period is separated from the main clause by a comma.

It's a bad example of a parenthetical phrase appearing first in the sentence.

Simon R. Hughes
Thankyou for your helpful response. My point was probably a rather minor one, but what you have said has made things much clearer. I never know in these situations if I've made some horrible error. I remember an occasion when I had managed to convince myself and a friend that I'd found a major error in Papadimitriou's Computational Complexity. We were just about to contact him when I realised I'd made a wholly trivial mistake. Even now, I cannot read the proof in question and work out what on earth I was thinking. And if I can make an error in that area, where I am more knowledgeable, there is no doubt that I can err with regard to punctuation. So I'm pleased not to have got things completely wrong on this one occasion.
And I might add that the comma chapter was the hardest chapter to write.

A few claims have been flung about recently. Some people seem to assert, for example, that punctuation usage is of infinitesimal difficulty, that schoolchildren can be taught it in a day, that anyone misusing commas must be stupid, and so on. I really don't believe such claims.
Once again, thanks,
R.
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