16

That's a line from a Twilight book. It's a grammar mistake pointed out by this website.

She sighed, and began whispering again.

I don't see anything wrong with it. Is the comma the mistake?

  • 2
    It's worth pointing out that the post you reference is just some guy writing on the forum. – DJClayworth Nov 4 '13 at 14:38
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    @DJClayworth Although I can imagine someone named Bethany preferring not to be called "some guy". – snailboat Nov 5 '13 at 4:54

10 Answers 10

48

There's nothing wrong with that sentence.

Some would say that the comma is unnecessary so it should be removed. But it's certainly not wrong, and it could usefully indicate a pause between the sigh and the whisper. In any case, commas are punctuation, not grammar.

People who delight in pointing out others' grammar mistakes usually know less about grammar than they think.


Edit

There's further discussion of the purpose of the comma in the comments below, but here's a quote from Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss that explains it nicely:

“Thurber was asked by a correspondent: "Why did you have a comma in the sentence, 'After dinner, the men went into the living-room'?" And his answer was probably one of the loveliest things ever said about punctuation. "This particular comma," Thurber explained, "was Ross's way of giving the men time to push back their chairs and stand up.”

Hat tip to FumbleFingers.

  • 2
    Totally agree with the last line. – Sorter Nov 5 '13 at 9:59
  • Totally agree with this clause: 'it could usefully indicate a pause between the sigh and the whisper' . Have you an authority that sanctions the indicate-a-pause-rather-than-fulfil-a-purely-syntactic-role usage of the comma? I've lost one! This comes close: --a comma is often thought to indicate a pause or a breath - sometimes, however, if it is placed in an odd position it could create confusion ... A comma gives the impression of a quick breath, the dash slightly longer, and the ellipsis is longer still. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 5 '13 at 10:41
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    @EdwinAshworth I think a punctuation guide would probably say that the comma is usually unnecessary, and is best omitted unless you have a good reason to keep it. And here, the comma suggests to the reader a slight pause in the action: that's a good reason. – Pitarou Nov 6 '13 at 4:03
  • @EdwinAshworth If you want an in-depth analysis, you have to think at three levels: the story (in the author's head), the human speech that narrates those actions (also in the author's head), and the textual representation of that narration. The author imagines a slight pause in the action, translates that to a pause in the spoken narration, and translates that to a comma that she would otherwise omit. – Pitarou Nov 6 '13 at 4:04
  • Sadly, most guides I've come across omit the 'unless you have a good reason to keep it' dispensation, and I've seen very few considering manner of speaking per se a good reason. I might just lift your comments – they're eminently quotable. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 6 '13 at 9:40
35

The comma in this sentence is perfectly fine.

If you were to take it out, you'd subtly change the meaning of the sentence:

She sighed and began whispering again

might imply that she sighed again and began whispering again. By inserting the comma, the writer makes it clear that only the whispering is the repeated act, that she hadn't necessarily sighed before.

It's a very minor distinction (and others may disagree). Comma usage is often subjective.

19

The comma is the putative mistake. Typically, students are instructed not to put a comma between two coordinated predicates:

Shesubject sighedpredicate A [ and began whispering again ]predicate B

For many people, "grammar" is a collection of every language-related prohibition they've ever learned (or think they've learned). Presumably they've internalized the rule above, and are excited to catch someone breaking it. That is, after all, how you play the game of Grammar Gotcha.

9

“When I saw him turning, I set my face towards home, and made the best use of my legs.”

-- Dickens, Great Expectations

“My proposal was to build a wharf there fit for us to stand upon, and I showed my comrades a large heap of stones, which were intended for a new house near the marsh, and which would very well suit our purpose.”

-- Franklin, Autobiography

It’s not difficult to find many, many more examples of this sort. If the OP is ungrammatical, it’s in good company!

(In other words, to be completely clear about it: it’s not.)

  • The pedant who flagged the grammar mistake in the Twilight sentence would not have flagged the commas in your examples – you have made an apples-to-oranges comparison here. I think snailboat's answer nails it; neither of these break that "rule." – J.R. Nov 4 '13 at 9:59
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    @J.R.: isn't "I set my face towards home, and made the best use of my legs" an example of two coordinated predicates separated by a comma, making this an apples-to-apples comparison? – LarsH Nov 4 '13 at 11:04
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    @LarsH - You're right! Mea culpa. Nice catch. But I still think Ant would do well to find something better than the Franklin quote to illustrate the point, which still seems apples-to-oranges to me. – J.R. Nov 4 '13 at 11:22
  • @J.R. Fair enough – same issue as in our exchange above. If you think that the reason someone has judged the OP ungrammatical (other than having an axe to grind about certain popular fiction) is the ellipsis of “she”, then the Franklin quote is indeed not a counterexample. I hadn’t come across that “rule” prior to this discussion. – Ant Nov 4 '13 at 11:50
6

Tina Blue writes sagely about Comma usage with Compound Predicates:

As with other compound sentence elements, a compound predicate generally is not separated by a comma. Occasionally, however, if the parts of a compound predicate are unusually long, or if the writer feels the need for special emphasis, a comma can be used with a compound predicate. Such commas should be treated as a heavy spice, though, and used sparingly.

So the rule appears to be 'you must not use this construction unless you want to'.

My sort of rule.

I might use it here:

After dinner, the students will go into the lecture theatre and library and study to improve their knowledge of the great outdoors.

1

I also think that sentence is perfectly okay.

It's also ( I know I have repeated 'also') an interesting construct because you do not grammatically require a comma, if the subject is the same but not stated, whereas 'She sighed, and she began whispering again, requires the comma because the subject 'she' is repeated in the subordinate clause.

However, I think this is a very good example of how English lets you play around with it, too.

Or if you like, the three sentences:

'She sighed, and began whispering again.'

'She sighed, and she began whispering again.', and

'She sighed and began whispering again.'

are all inherently different in their content and what their respective authors are communicating, and it is that that must be, in the final analysis, at least for me, the crucial deciding factor.

  • You forgot one: "She sighed and began whispering, again." or even: "She sighed, and began whispering, again." – Kevin Fegan Jul 19 '14 at 3:07
1

The word 'again' makes me do a double take. Did she sigh again or just once? She sighed again. She began whispering again. The comma makes me feel like the is doing two things... again.

0

There's nothing wrong with the sentence but there are better ways to formulate it, especially for a book.

I would formulate it like this:

"She sighed before resuming/continuing to whisper."

When you formulate it this way you can add detail more easily.

Example:

"She sighed before resuming/continuing to whisper, unaware of her changed surroundings."

When you try it with the sentence you are using:

"She sighed, and began to whisper again, unaware of her changed surrounings."

It doesn't sound quite right does it?

Hope this helps :)

  • 1
    To this native English speaker's ears, the one you think doesn't sound quite right actually sounds rather better... – calum_b Nov 4 '13 at 14:01
  • Twilight, being a fantasy book, would be better fitted with a bit "mystical" sentences. Also, notice the comma in the last example. When you pronounce that comma as a pause, it sounds really weird. At least it does to me. – MilanSxD Nov 4 '13 at 14:04
  • @MilanSxD Try sighing a little bit when you pronounce sighed. To my ear, that fits the rhythm suggested by the comma. – snailboat Nov 4 '13 at 14:50
  • Don't you usually read the sentence first and then imagine what the sentence explains? "She sighed before continuing to whisper" sigh followed by the whispered sentences. But when you sigh while reading it, it goes like this: "She sigh sighed sigh, and began whispering again. You don't know what comes after "sighed" and thus don't know how to continue after it unless you read the sentence twice. And you shouldn't need to read it twice. – MilanSxD Nov 4 '13 at 15:13
  • @MilanSxD One usually needs to read ahead to know how to intonate a sentence. You are going to agree with me? – Edwin Ashworth Nov 4 '13 at 16:55
-1

I also do not see anything wrong with it but yes, there is no reason to put comma there. I think the comma is put by the author to denote a pause, but it is not grammatically correct according to the rules for comma usage.

You might want to see this: http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/commas.htm

  • 3
    The problem with prescriptionism is that it assume that a inviolable statute of grammar exists. The fact that you recognize the intention of having a comma there suggests that you understand that there is a reason why the comma is right where it is. – gelolopez Nov 4 '13 at 7:13
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    Er, according to your link this is grammatical under option 2. I'm afraid “it is not grammatically correct” is simply untrue. – Ant Nov 4 '13 at 9:36
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    @Ant - Read Rule 2 a bit more carefully. The key is independent clauses. Under that rule, a comma would be in order had the original sentence read: "She sighed, and she began whispering again." (Notice the extra pronoun in the example on the website: "He hit the ball well, but he ran toward third base." Change the sentence, lose the comma: "He hit the ball well but ran toward third base.") – J.R. Nov 4 '13 at 10:06
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    @J.R. Interesting - you are using “independent” to mean something different from the way I use it. I would classify “[she] began whispering again” as independent, but, say, “when she began whispering again” as dependent. (And indeed this seems to be the definition used on the linked site – click on “independent clauses”.) If you think that ellipsis of the head makes a clause dependent, fair play, but I don’t think this is a usual analysis. – Ant Nov 4 '13 at 10:47
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    (2) Judicious (?) ellipting can be used to justify almost any favoured construction. Purdue OWL is less accommodating: 13. Don't put a comma between the two verbs or verb phrases in a compound predicate. INCORRECT: We laid out our music and snacks, and began to study. INCORRECT: I turned the corner, and ran smack into a patrol car. I'm still looking for an authority that contests this rule (and believe me, I'm going to find one). – Edwin Ashworth Nov 4 '13 at 11:47
-1

The only reason it could be considered wrong, is that in the first case the past perfect can be used, as it had happened before she started to whisper.

protected by J.R. Nov 5 '13 at 11:28

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