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I'm editing a manuscript that has a lot of constructions like these:

“The sound is almost deafening,” Amanda said as they continued down the narrow lane.

“Maybe I could come and work here,” Amanda said as she craned her neck watching...

“So how is it going?” Bernice asked as Amanda walked to the lectern.

I instinctively want to put a comma after each “said”, but can't back my play with an explanation.

Any thoughts? (There are too many of these too rewrite each instance.)

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With "as" a conjunction connecting two independent clauses, I, too, would be inclined to insert a comma. However, I can't exactly say that that current construction is right. Here's why:

"Amanda said" (&c.) is an independent clause. The quotation is merely an extension of it. So, we have "'The sound is almost deafening,' Amanda said." This makes grammatical sense by itself.

Also an independent clause is "they continued down the narrow lane." The word "as" acts as a subordinating conjunction—that is, the addition of "as" to the second half creates a dependent clause: "as they continued down the narrow lane." This clearly can't stand by itself; it needs another half to connect to.

When you join it with an independent clause before it (as it does in your examples), you end up with an I.C. followed by a D.C., which does not require a comma. Were the I.C. to follow the D.C. ("As they walked down the lane, Amanda said, 'The sound is almost deafening'"), you would definitely need a comma.

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+1 for pointing out that the subordinating conjunction as makes what follows a dependent clause. I agree with your conclusion. For another explanation of comma use with clauses, see also: depts.washington.edu/engl/askbetty/sentence_structure.php – JLG Apr 2 '12 at 2:40
+1 I think you're right; no need for a comma. – htoip Apr 2 '12 at 2:49

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