This was at a moment when the magistrate, overcome with tiredness, had gone down into the garden of his house and, dark, bent beneath some implacable thought, like Tarquin cutting the heads off the tallest poppies with his cane, M. de Villefort was knocking down the long, dying stems of the hollyhocks that rose on either side of the path like ghosts of those flowers that had been so brilliant in the seasons that had passed away.

Why is there no comma before the bolded and? My understanding is that there is an independent clause on each side of the bolded and.

By the way, the subject of the two independent clauses is the same.


You are assuming a rule that I believe is a pseudo-rule (perhaps you could quote this 'rule' from some grammar?) I'd personally have no trouble with

Tom went to France and Dick went to Belgium.

It's clear enough. The addition of a comma before and would not worry me either - I'd add a pause if reading that version.

Here is an endorsement of the optional dropping of that prescriptive comma:

When a coordinating conjunction connects two independent clauses, it is often (but not always) accompanied by a comma:

Ulysses wants to play for UConn, but he has had trouble meeting the academic requirements.

When the two independent clauses connected by a coordinating conjunction are nicely balanced or brief, many writers will omit the comma:

Ulysses has a great jump shot but he isn't quick on his feet.

( http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/conjunctions.htm )

What disturbs me far more is the rambling and over-punctuated nature of the example sentence. Two at least are needed - the garden-path flavour of the original might even lead some to misconstrue it, being led to believe that ' the subject of the two independent clauses is the same'.

  • I see. It's optional. I was aware of a comma being optional, but I thought that that was only when the sentence was short. Clearly not. Thanks. – Jos Jul 1 '13 at 9:34
  • Jos, do you have a background of German? Because in German, (at least before they Neue Rechtschreibung), two clauses connected with "und" will require a comma before the "und", when both clauses are complete in their own right. This may be a wrong transference to English. Tom fuhr nach Frankreich, und Dick fuhr nach Belgien. The comma is required in German, not in English. – teylyn Jul 1 '13 at 9:59

There is no comma because the subject of the two independent clauses is not, in fact, the same person. If you study the syntax, there are two quite clear indicators of this. First, the sequence of tenses: the magistrate had gone down AND Monsieur de Villefort was knocking down the dying stems. This construction is a well known sequence, often used, and English speakers invariably recognize it as meaning that one person has discovered another in an action that has already begun. The second indicator that the two subjects are different is that within this particular structure, a writer does not start with a somewhat indefinite identifier like the person's job, and then shift to his name when mentioning him a second time; if he were to mention him a second time, he would use a pronoun. The use of a proper name indicates clearly that the writer is introducing a second person.

Therefore no comma before the and is correct, thus: He went down and found Mr. Brown was already there.

  • John, I appreciate your answer, but I don't understand the relevance of the subject being different. Let me quote another sentence from the book: "His head had fell back on his chest and,with it bowed, he walked a few times around his study..." My question is: there are two independent clauses in that sentence. Why are they not separated by a comma? – Jos Jul 1 '13 at 7:06
  • To be fair, my example sentence doesn't really reflect yours. Let me fix that. In both your example sentences, the first clause is in the past perfect, indicating completed action. I'm certain that in your second example, the verb should read "had fallen," not "had fell." In such a case, one does not use a comma before the conjunction because the point of using the past perfect is to connect that part of the action to what follows. The writer does not want to enforce a separation, which is what would happen if a comma were stuck in there. – John M. Landsberg Jul 1 '13 at 8:00

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