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Burning comma question



 
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Burning comma question #1 (permalink) Wed Jun 11, 2008 10:16 am   Burning comma question
 

OK, most grammar guides list the same uses for commas. I could've sworn the way I'm about to use one below is valid, but I'm told it's not. Someone weigh in.

1) Jesse said that Sally had been hurt but remained hopeful.
2) Jesse said that Sally had been hurt, but remained hopeful.

Doesn't the comma in No. 2 make "but remained hopeful" refer to Jesse? In No. 1, I'd read it as referring to Sally. If this use is not valid, how is the reader to be sure whether I mean the sentence subject or that of the relative clause? Any help would be vastly appreciated.
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Burning comma question #2 (permalink) Wed Jun 11, 2008 12:37 pm   Burning comma question
 

The second sentence sounds too complicated to me. Read it aloud - can you feel the difference? :)
Let's wait for some natives' opinions. I'm also interested in punctuation, because we study it to a lesser degree than other aspects.
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Burning comma question #3 (permalink) Wed Jun 11, 2008 17:14 pm   Burning comma question
 

I agree that especially in sentence (1) "remained hopeful" seems to refer to Sally.

My recommendation would be to reword the sentence rather than trying to solve the ambiguity problem with a comma.
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Burning comma question #4 (permalink) Wed Jun 11, 2008 18:48 pm   Burning comma question
 

I think that in (1) "but remained hopeful" refers to Sally.
I think that in (2) the phrase most likely refers to Jesse, but it could also easily refer to Sally. As Amy said, it should be reworded for clarity.

Keep in mind that proofreaders, very prescriptivist teachers and similar people are often so fixated on grammar and punctuation rules as stated in style manuals that they can't actually perceive nuance. They'll very often claim some punctuation is wrong because it violates a rule that comes to their minds, but they may be unable to see why the punctuation is needed or not needed in a special situation.

This is one of those cases where a comma can change the meaning of the sentence. Another one:

"I know he's angry because I saw him."
"I know he's angry, because I saw him."

That type of pair is very difficult for speakers of some languages to deal with, because in their own languages the comma is always obligatory before their word for "because". Russian, Albanian and German are among those languages.
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