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Is the comma after the word and in this sentence correct?

Social networks made having friends obsolete and, frankly pathetic.

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I think this is quite an interesting question. I'm not big on commas in the first place, but it seems difficult to avoid using at least one here. Strictly speaking it's the word "frankly" that's been "parenthetically" inserted here so if you want to be correct you need two commas. One before it and one after. –  FumbleFingers Dec 13 '12 at 22:29
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@FumbleFingers -- that was my first thought, he's using "frankly" parenthetically so it should be set off by comma. Then I read tchrist's suggestion and it was such a good idea (although it changes the meaning slightly) I'm trying to convince myself I thought of it first. –  Malvolio Dec 13 '12 at 23:37
    
@Malvolio: I can't really see that tchrist's version changes the meaning, even slightly. To my mind, there's only one possible way to interpret the utterance anyway. I thought it was a good question because normally I assume you can completely remove a parenthetical element without significantly affecting the meaning. The problem here being that you can't just casually remove the word "frankly". Tchrist's change gets around the entire problem by effectively recasting everything after the word "obsolete" as a "parenthetical" addition. –  FumbleFingers Dec 13 '12 at 23:45
    
@FumbleFingers -- it changes at least the emphasis. With the em-dash, the addition of "pathetic" is an afterthought. If you were saying it aloud, it's the difference between saying "Having friends is obsolete and pathetic" and "Having friends is obsolete. Oh, and I think it's pathetic too." –  Malvolio Dec 13 '12 at 23:51
    
@Malvolio: I don't see it quite like that. Even your final rephrasing doesn't really reflect the full force of the word "frankly" in this context, which I'd recast as more like "Having friends is obsolete. I would go even further, and say it's pathetic." What I mean is there's a lot of stress on the word pathetic, so you need to reflect that. –  FumbleFingers Dec 14 '12 at 0:00
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3 Answers

A single comma after "and" does not make sense by any grammar rule I know of.

Without the word "frankly", you would most naturally write the sentence with no commas: "Social networks made having friends obsolete and pathetic."

You could insert "frankly" with no commas -- "Social networks made having friends obsolete and frankly pathetic." But that's probably not quite what the writer means. He doesn't mean that the pathos is frank. He means that he will state frankly what having friends is: it is pathetic. In this case we commonly offset a word like "frankly", i.e. we write, "... made having friends obsolete and, frankly, pathetic", to indicate that "frankly" is not modifying "pathetic", indeed it is not modifying any word that explicitly occurs in the sentence. Rather, it is modifying an unstated "I say". The writer is trying to convey the idea that he is writing this frankly, not that anything actually mentioned in the sentence is doing anything frankly.

I've heard teachers and grammarians criticize such phrasing as ungrammatical. I recall one lecturer complain in a similar context that the word "hopefully" is often used to mean "I hope". He offered the example, "Hopefully, he will be depressed." Who is being hopeful here, he asked? The person who is depressed? How can you be depressed hopefully? Of course what the speaker surely means is, "I hope he will be depressed."

So I suppose a case could be made that the sentence with or without the commas is just bad grammar. That you should say, "I would like to frankly say that social networks made having friends pathetic." But if you put commas around "frankly", we all know what you mean, so in my humble opinion it's a perfectly good sentence. As long as you include both commas.

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Excellent, particularly for including the related semantic issue. –  StoneyB Dec 13 '12 at 23:03
    
The whole issue of pragmatic markers is well addressed at PRAGMATIC MARKERS - eLanguage elanguage.net/journals/pragmatics/article/download/418/350 , where Fraser gives a thorough analysis. Frankly as used above is a commentary marker - here voicing the speaker's attitude towards the statement of the (second part of the) matrix sentence. Because frankly is isoformal with the adverb (as are seriously, obviously, confidentially ... an older descriptor is sentence adverb(ial). Hopefully, teachers and grammarians who criticized such phrasing as ungrammatical have retired by now. –  Edwin Ashworth Dec 13 '12 at 23:27
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Apparently, the AP has capitulated on the issue of "hopefully", so presumably, "frankly" is in as well. Obviously, I'm already over-using adverbs... –  Malvolio Dec 13 '12 at 23:49
    
+1 for comprehensiveness and flow. –  tylerharms Dec 14 '12 at 6:25
    
@EdwinAshworth But have those teachers retired hopefully, or are you hopeful that they have retired? –  Jay Dec 14 '12 at 14:26
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Try writing it this way:

Social networks made having friends obsolete — and frankly, pathetic.

I think the em dash makes it all much better, and much clearer besides.

I suppose some folks might still want to not have a comma after frankly, though.

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Frankly, yes. (for the reasons Jay listed). From a reading standpoint, the em dash adds to the sentence's cadence (IMHO), but I still "feel" better with a comma after "frankly". :-) –  Kristina Lopez Dec 13 '12 at 23:24
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@KristinaLopez I agree with you. Amended. –  tchrist Dec 13 '12 at 23:25
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Without the comma, the sentence is saying friends are pathetic in a frank manner. What the author means is that in his frankly expressed opinion, friends are pathetic. Frankly falls into that category of free-floating phrasal adverbs like hopefully and luckily (technically "disjuncts") that describe the mindset of the speaker rather than any verb actually spoken. –  Malvolio Dec 13 '12 at 23:42
    
I don't really care much what "grammatical rules" might be involved here. Nor do I have a strong opinion on whether it reads more naturally with or without the comma. But I certainly think the em dash is the best way to set off those final three words (which effectively stand in for an entire separate sentence: "To speak frankly, social networks made having friends pathetic."). –  FumbleFingers Dec 13 '12 at 23:53
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I don't see anything particularly wrong with "Social networks made having friends obsolete and, frankly, pathetic." It's a simple pause for emphasis that is unobjectionable and, frankly, unremarkable. –  Robusto Dec 14 '12 at 1:42
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The word frankly is an discourse marker which, in a parenthetical way, makes a self-referential comment about the sentence itself. The writer is telling us that he or she thinks something is pathetic, oh, and that he or she is being frank in telling us that.

As such, in polished writing, this word should be bracketed by two commas: ... and, frankly, pathetic. These commas separate it from the surrounding material, similarly to parentheses. One is not enough. If you omit the commas, it is sloppy: and frankly pathetic. This looks like the adverb frankly is modifying pathetic, giving rise to the question what it means to be frankly pathetic.

Worst to best:

  1. and, frankly pathetic (looks like a run-on)
  2. and frankly pathetic (lack of separation of interjecting element)
  3. and frankly, pathetic (some separation, avoids the problem of frankly pathetic)
  4. and, frankly, pathetic (nicely delimited)

The question to ask isn't so much which is correct, but in what kind of writing are these various forms acceptable. 1 and 2 do not belong in formal writing. They are fine in informal e-mails, SMS texts and such. In an instant message, it might even be even appropriate to spell it frkly, by which point commas have probably gone out the window.

3 is acceptable in formal writing, but 4 is more polished.

In some kinds of writing, there is no place for a discourse marker such as frankly at all. For instance, it would not be appropriate in a Wikipedia page, except in a direct quote of someone's speech or literary excerpt, because it introduces a first person commentary which is inappropriate for presenting the bare facts.

If you were writing an opinion column for a respected newspaper with a wide circulation, you'd probably want to have both commas: and, frankly, dear readers ... In a municipal rag you could squeak by with and frankly, dear readers ...

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In my view, this is the best answer, especially for looking into the differences in writing and meaning that comes from different comma positions in this sentence. –  kontur Dec 14 '12 at 10:25
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