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I am in the process of creating a post on one of the other Stackexchange sites, and I came across something I've been wanting to ask for a while:

When I VPN to work from my Windows desktop, I don't have to assign an IP address, the server automatically gives me one.

Conceptually there are three clauses:

  • When I VPN to work from my Windows desktop
  • I don't have to assign an IP address
  • the server automatically gives me one

Commas are usually used to denote a pause in the sentence:

When I VPN to work from my Windows desktop [pause] I don't have to assign an IP address [pause] the server automatically gives me one.

But I also remember commas are use to separate out optional clauses:

When I VPN to work from my Windows desktop [snip] the server automatically gives me one.

Well, that makes no sense; something's wrong here. The last clause could be removed:

When I VPN to work from my Windows desktop [pause] I don't have to assign an IP address.

That sentence could stand on its own, but the point is that the server gives me one — I need that. Returning to the "pause" version:

When I VPN to work from my Windows desktop [pause] I don't have to assign an IP address [pause] the server automatically gives me one.

It sounds like the first two clauses can be run together, and the final clause is being attached. That's the job of a semi-colon, isn't it?

When I VPN to work from my Windows desktop, I don't have to assign an IP address; the server automatically gives me one.

But it it feels like it depends too heavily on the initial clause. Also, the final clause is the conclusion of the whole sentence. Perhaps I should use a colon to present it:

When I VPN to work from my Windows desktop, I don't have to assign an IP address: the server automatically gives me one.

Or while I'm at it, just try other random things (some of which I know I shouldn't do):

When I VPN to work from my Windows desktop, I don't have to assign an IP address — the server automatically gives me one.

When I VPN to work from my Windows desktop, I don't have to assign an IP address... the server automatically gives me one.

When I VPN to work from my Windows desktop, I don't have to assign an IP address (the server automatically gives me one).


The clauses could also be turned around:

I don't have to assign an IP address when I VPN to work from my Windows desktop: the server automatically gives me one.

The server automatically gives an IP address when I VPN to work from my Windows desktop; I don't have to assign one.

Note: I assume this has been covered to death... although I can't find it; feel free to vote to close (with the link to question that covers this ground — if available).

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What's wrong with using a comma and a period? "When I VPN to work from my Windows desktop, I don't have to assign an IP address. The server automatically gives me one." –  Robusto Jul 31 '11 at 15:05
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I have a bigger issue with this sentence. When did VPN become a verb? IMHO, the correct form should read: –  zenbike Jul 31 '11 at 15:28
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@zenbike: We've been sanctioning its use for a while; envisioning its wider acceptance. I chaired a meeting where we tabled the motion that we be allowed to VPN to the server. –  Ian Boyd Jul 31 '11 at 16:30
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2 Answers

up vote 1 down vote accepted

In the original sentence first comma is optional/superfluous depending on your point of view. I don't think many people would say it's absolutely required.

Traditionalists will mostly say the second one should be a semicolon, but increasingly there's a tendency to just use a comma (the more so, I feel, if the first comma was omitted).

If the entire sentence can be recast, I normally wouldn't bother with the "I don't have to assign..." clause because it's blindingly obvious given that the sentence explicitly says the server does that...

When I VPN to work from my Windows desktop the server automatically assigns me an IP address.

In odd circumstances where I wanted to emphasise the fact that I don't need to do the assignment myself, I might just say...

I don't have to assign an IP address when I VPN to work from my Windows desktop because the server automatically does this.

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I have a bigger issue with this sentence. When did VPN become a verb? IMHO, the correct form should read:

"When I connect the VPN between my home and my office, the DHCP server automatically assigns my home PC an IP address."

or

"When I connect the VPN between my home and my office, I don't have to assign an IP address to my home PC. The DHCP server handles that task automatically."

or

"When I connect the VPN between my home and my office, I don't have to assign an IP address to my home PC; the DHCP server handles that task automatically."

I believe all of these should be essentially equally correct. But "VPN" is an object, not an action. The phrasing in the OP feels awkward to me, and I think that's why.

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i don't think anyone in the subject area will find it awkward. It's common to speak of "RDP to the customer", "VNC to my home machine", "VPN to work". i accept the words to be "more correct" in the more verbose form. But the more wordy it is the harder it is to read. –  Ian Boyd Jul 31 '11 at 16:27
    
I hear you. but I work in the subject area. Common and correct are not the same thing. –  zenbike Jul 31 '11 at 16:34
    
At the very least it's a separate question: making a doing thing out of a thing thing. i'm perfectly ok with e-mailing you, rather than sending you an e-mail. i think i'm already pedantic when i correct people who miss the hyphen in e-mail (or capitalize it). –  Ian Boyd Jul 31 '11 at 16:42
    
I don't understand this hostility towards verbification of VPN (surely not verbification in general?). It's a normal part of linguistic innovation. Is it just that it's not defined as a verb in your dictionary? And do you automatically assume that anything not in your dictionary (or dictionaries) is "incorrect"? I'm obviously even more lax than OP, since I positively prefer "email" not to be hyphenated. –  FumbleFingers Jul 31 '11 at 18:51
    
One could argue that VPN became a verb around the time that network became a verb. –  Brian Nixon Jul 31 '11 at 19:21
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