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In that eternal moment it sounded like thunder, reminding him that today time isn't on his side.

versus

In that eternal moment it sounded like thunder, reminding him that today, time isn't on his side.

From what I understand and believe to be right, the comma isn't supposed to be there. The problem is that without the comma it's difficult to parse and during the first time of reading, the word "time" seems misplaced.

Can I place the comma there and still be grammatical or should I rather not and let the reader parse the sentence without any help?

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You forgot a comma after moment. –  tchrist May 12 '12 at 18:26
3  
"Today, time isn't on his side." would have been enough, and better, as an example. Now you see the comma is needed. –  Kris May 12 '12 at 18:37
    
The comma here seems to add the pause that is needed to parse the sentence first time through correctly. BTW, it would be clearer if today were moved to the end of the sentence. –  JeffSahol May 13 '12 at 1:59

1 Answer 1

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The first thing to say is that punctuation is a typographical convention rather than a matter of grammar. In your example, I see no need for a comma after today, but if there is one, then a comma would be helpful before it as well. The tense of the verb be after time, however, is a matter of grammar. Because the preceding verb is in the past tense, the sentence needs wasn’t rather than isn’t.

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You probably mean reported speech, not a past tense in the preceding verb. –  Kris May 12 '12 at 18:54
    
@BarrieEngland, so are you saying that I can have the verb in the past tense, even when used with "today"? "Reminding him that today time wasn't on his side."? –  RiMMER May 12 '12 at 19:22
    
It would be necessary to know more of the context to be absolutely sure, but 'it sounded like thunder' seems to tell us that the scene is set some time in the past. It follows that the inconvenience of time not being on his side was a concomitant of the past event. –  Barrie England May 12 '12 at 19:41
    
I agree with Barrie on his "two commas" suggestion. Essentially, "...reminding him that time isn't on his side." becomes, "...reminding him that, today, time isn't on his side." (or wasn't, if you prefer) –  J.R. May 13 '12 at 2:24

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