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Does this sentence need to be broken up by a semi colon, conjuction, or a period? Is there a modifier error here as well?

The peasants were the least free of all people, bound by tradition and fettered by superstitions.

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2 Answers 2

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No, the comma is correct. Bound... is a participial phrase modifying the subject, the peasants, so it is not a clause; normally, only full clauses are set off by a colon, semicolon, or full stop.

As to why you need the comma, a participial phrase that is removed from the subject (or from whatever it modifies) is normally appositional, i.e. a kind of grammatical "afterthought", so less tightly connected to it.

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  • What about a colon? "... people: bound by tradition, and fettered by superstitions." Is that also correct?
    – David M
    Commented Feb 14, 2014 at 15:44
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    +1 for deft illustrative use of a semicolon correctly in your text! Commented Feb 14, 2014 at 15:53
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    @DavidM: Hmm now you're making it sound dirty, yay! Commented Feb 14, 2014 at 16:02
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    @Cerberus My pleasure! (Well, not if someone flogs my colon!) ;)
    – David M
    Commented Feb 14, 2014 at 16:03
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    @FumbleFingers I think you're exactly right. Both a semicolon and a colon indicate that the writer is working in longer, more complex periods - organizing in greater depth. Commented Feb 14, 2014 at 18:30
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Cerberus is right on spot, but I see another possible parse of the sentence. That would affect whether or not a comma should appear, but for the meaning you intend (and to me the obvious meaning), the comma should in fact be included.

The obvious intent is "The peasants are the least free of all people, {since they are} bound by....

The other possible parse is:

The peasants were the least free of {all people [who are] bound by tradition and fettered by superstitions.}

...in which case the comma would be excluded. However, that would make reading the sentence somewhat difficult and ambiguous.

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