Long Sentence, II

Another example to examine to see how the author used commas to clarify her message. Scroll to the bottom to see where the author inserted 24 commas to set off nonrestrictive phrases and clauses in this 111-word sentence.

In tenth grade, my English teacher handed out a standardized test of punctuation that included an item I argued could be correctly punctuated two ways.

Here’s the sentence (without any punctuation since that’s the way I first saw it):

Mr Brown the postman will see you

I argued that, in addition to the period after the abbreviation Mr. and at the end of the sentence, the sentence needed either one or two commas, depending on who Mr. Brown is:

Mr. Brown, the postman will see you.

with one comma if Mr. Brown is the name of the person the speaker is addressing


Mr. Brown, the postman, will see you.

with two commas If Mr. Brown is the postman and the speaker is addressing another person.

The teacher looked in the teacher’s guide and declared the sentence only needed one comma and that was the only correct answer.

Commas have been my special punctuation interest ever since.

The sentence at the top of this post is one I know was written in English, not translated from a language that may more commonly see long sentences so they end up as long English sentences when translated. It has 111 words with 24 commas, most of which I feel connect rather than separate so that the thoughts in the sentence are held together, to emphasize the staccato beats of emotions the words reflect. This sentence could be a series of much shorter sentences, but I believe the commas make it more powerful as written.

I can point to The Chicago Manual of Style section that defines why each comma is needed. Most of them mark items in a series or separate a nonrestrictive phrase or clause from what it modifies. Many could be replaced by the conjunction and, which would eliminate the need for the commas, but the result would feel like a runon sentence, conveying a sense of rushing ahead, not the series of sobs I feel when reading it as written, sobs that keep me focused on the here and now instead of the there and then.

Commas, in red, included to separate items in a series and to set off nonrestrictive phrases and clauses.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: