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An oft-neglected comma

In this representative sentence from a police story you can see one more example of how a comma can indicate a subtle shift in meaning.

As written: During the chase up Interstate 97, police said the man waved a handgun out of the window of the car. 

As edited: During the chase up Interstate 97, police said, the man waved a handgun out of the window of the car.

Without the second comma, the sentence indicates that the police gave this account during the chase. With it, the sentence incates that the police account was given later.






Posted by John McIntyre at 6:18 PM | | Comments (2)


More importantly, it makes clear that the part about the chase is part of what the police said.

Huzzah for this comma and the clear explanation. The Gentle Reader may recall my relationship with a proponentess of dropping the serial comma. I am girding my loins to talk to her parents regarding our future together, so a mixed relationship CAN work!

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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