English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I am Investigator Ace Sleuth, from the Fuji Apple Sheriff's Department.

I am Investigator Ace Sleuth from the Fuji Apple Sheriff's Department.

The comma in the first sentence implies that he's not Investigator Ace Sleuth from the Granny Smith Police Department, unlikely, I know, nor Ace Sleuth from any other agency.

The second sentence implies there are Ace Sleuths all over the place.

As a court reporter, I often have this sentence pattern. Which is better?

share|improve this question
Awesome question. I personally would tend to go with the former. They're both completely correct but the former seems marginally less ambiguous. It's also semantically closer to the small, well-formed simple sentence case: I am Investigator Ace Sleuth. I am from the Fuji Apple Sheriff's Department. Smaller, simpler sentences are A Good Thing. – mo. Jul 13 '12 at 20:14
Of course, if you're a court reporter, does that mean you're trying to accurately write what's being spoken? That's a really intriguing problem. I'm not sure if there's a function that would define the "correct" way to write it, given a certain intonation, etc. It'd be fascinating to see someone take a stab at it! – mo. Jul 13 '12 at 20:19
@mo.: I think that potential ambiguity is largely fanciful - but if this particular Ace Sleuth wanted to make sure he wasn't confused with a more famous Ace Sleuth (perhaps based at the Fuji Orange Sheriff's Department), he'd more likely introduce himself with "I am the Investigator Ace Sleuth from the Fuji Apple Sheriff's Department". – FumbleFingers Jul 13 '12 at 21:29

OP is mistaken - including the comma or not implies nothing whatsoever about whether there might be other investigators also called Ace Sleuth, based in other locations.

The general tendency is to use less commas over recent decades, and they're certainly not grammatically required in this specific context, so ordinarily I'd say don't bother with it.

But since OP is acting as court recorder, I suggest it's probably better to use a comma - if only because it forces the reader to pause, imparting slightly more "gravitas" to the text. Which is only right and proper for text with strong legal associations.

If Ace Sleuth had left an unusually long pause after his name, OP could indicate this by ellipsis (three dots), but I think it would be unrealistic to attempt to faithfully reflect normal pauses in speech using commas. The reader would just end up confused as to which commas reflected the actual intonation, and which were grammatically required (or simply added to improve legibility).

share|improve this answer
+1 for "imparting slightly more "gravitas" to the text." – user19148 Jul 13 '12 at 21:31
@Carlo_R.: One of the nice things about "gravitas" is that just using it can add it! – FumbleFingers Jul 13 '12 at 21:47
Interesting question. I wonder if there are special standards that a court reporter must follow. After all, they transcribe spoken words to writing. People rarely speak in grammatically correct sentences (at least not casually). Other than from Victor Borge, how does one distinguish a pause from a period? – BellevueBob Jul 13 '12 at 23:11
@Bob Duell: I think we can safely assume there isn't some universally (or even nationally) recognised standard for court reporters, or OP would have been made aware of it already. As indicated in my answer, OP could reasonably indicate actual extended pauses using ellipsis. Other than that, he should stick to standard grammar. If precise intonation is important, the court should arrange audio recording. I assume OP means "court reporter" in the American sense of someone employed by the court (a court recorder in Britain, where court reporters work for newspapers). – FumbleFingers Jul 13 '12 at 23:25
Fumble fingers, why did you use a comma in your first sentence? – MInerva Jul 17 '12 at 12:54

There is a parallel with supplementary and integrated relative clauses, as in:

  1. The next witness, who was from the Fuji Apple Sheriff's Department, was Investigator Ace Sleuth.
  2. The next witness who was from the Fuji Apple Sheriff's Department was Investigator Ace Sleuth.

In 1 it is very likely that there was only one witness from the Sheriff's Department. In 2 ‘the next witness’ could be one of a number of witnesses from the Sheriff's Department.

A similar difference applies to the OP’s examples, although I have not seen it articulated before. If there was indeed only one witness from the Sheriff's Department, the presence of a comma minimizes any possibility that there was more than one. I imagine court reporters can’t be too careful about these things.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.