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I've got a sentence where the independent clause is in the front, a contrasting phrase follows, and then a simile is made to modify or elaborate the contrasting phrase. I am wondering where commas should go in this sentence. One rule is to set off the contrasting phrase/ clause from the rest of the sentence. The other is setting off dependent clauses. The sentence is:

a) Roman sat, quietly, in his seat, not giggling and chit-chatting, like the other kids from his school.

I believe that the commas setting off quietly are appropriate or not and depend on the meaning I am trying to convey. I am also quite sure that the comma before not is appropriate. If the sentence becomes:

b) Roman sat, quietly, in his seat, like the other kids from his school.

Then you lose the meaning of the sentence because the other kids were not sitting quietly. If you look at most examples of contrasting phrases that get set off by commas, you will notice that the meaning is not lost:

c) She will go to to school in New York, not Chicago, to study law.

Excise the contrasting phrase, and:

d) She will go to school in New York to study law.

Similarly,

e) It was her money, not her charm or personality, that first attracted him.

Excise the contrasting phrase, and:

f) It was her money that first attracted him.

So, what do I do here?

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1  
I have spent most of the day putting in a comma and the rest of the day taking it out. — Oscar Wilde –  coleopterist Mar 19 '13 at 4:41
    
Where is "here"? Are you asking about sentence F or some other sentence? –  St John of the Cross Mar 19 '13 at 11:33

1 Answer 1

This sentence has stilted and contrived syntax. It's very unpleasant to read. If you want this word order and all those confounding commas, then give it the structure of verse:

Roman sat,
quietly,
in his seat,
not giggling and chit-chatting,
like the other kids from his school.

The sentence is ambiguous, however. Too many commas (all those postterm pregnant pauses are unnecessary and undesirable, unless the sentence is in free verse) and the wrong word order.

It wants to say:

Unlike the other kids in his class, who were giggling and chit-chatting, Roman sat quietly in his seat.

So why not say:

Roman sat quietly in his seat, not giggling and chit-chatting like the other kids in his class.

or

Roman sat quietly in his seat, not giggling and chit-chatting, unlike the other kids in his class.

If you drop the contrasting phrase, you lose something, yes, but your sentence

b) Roman sat, quietly, in his seat, like the other kids from his school

incorrectly disambiguates the sentence. It has to be

b) Roman sat, quietly, in his seat, unlike the other kids from his school.

Then the meaning of the original isn't lost.

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Two of your example sentences are identical. –  Jez Mar 19 '13 at 11:24
    
@Jez: Thank you for noticing that. I had some editing problems earlier. I'll fix it. –  user21497 Mar 19 '13 at 11:26
    
I'm sorry I gave you guys such a difficult task, but I'm not asking how to work with the first few commas, I am asking about the last comma in the sentence, that is all. I care about whether it follows comma rules or does not...do you guys know your comma rules? –  Suzyy Mar 19 '13 at 20:40
    
@Suzyy: There are very few hard & fast punctuation rules. Whether punctuation is required or optional or wrong depends on the sentence. If it works, it's good. If it doesn't do anything, it's unnecessary. And whether it does anything is sometimes like beauty: in the eye of the beholder. I know what I think are necessary, unnecessary, & useful commas, but not everyone agrees with me. I tend to use more commas than most other native speakers, but that doesn't mean that the way others use commas is wrong. –  user21497 Mar 19 '13 at 23:56

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