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That's what this struggle, this isolation, this retreat is all about.

Should there be a comma after this retreat?

In the state above, it looks to me as if this struggle and this isolation are modifying this retreat, which isn't the sense of the sentence.

I was thinking that putting a comma after this retreat would make everything that follows this struggle to become enclosed in bracketing commas instead.

Is that the effect of adding the comma? And how are the commas currently functioning? They don't appear to be bracketing commas to me.

marked as duplicate by anongoodnurse, choster, tchrist, David M, Kristina Lopez Mar 17 '14 at 17:52

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  • Commas are often discretionary. In this case, I (not a great fan of commas) would use one, but some might not, citing comma clutter, to which I would not object. – anongoodnurse Mar 16 '14 at 8:31
  • Should it be 'is' or 'are'? – Leon Conrad Mar 16 '14 at 9:24
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    @LeonConrad The sentence is using three different ways of describing the same thing, but there is only one thing. The verb must be singular. – Terpsichore Mar 16 '14 at 12:31
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    @Susan - my point is that it wasn't clear to me whether the subject was one thing or three. I could say 'this apple, this pear, and this banana are the ones I'm going to use for my fruit salad,' so it's not always a cut-and-dry case. Struggle and isolation seemed contradictory, (internal? external? retreat from what?) hence my question. – Leon Conrad Mar 16 '14 at 17:30
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    You people (Susan, choster, tchrist, David M, Kristina Lopez) shouldn't have marked this OP's question as a duplicate, nor have linked that other thread as having the answer since it does NOT answer the OP's question. The OP asked a very good question about a specific sentence. – F.E. Mar 18 '14 at 19:57
  • 1.) That's what this struggle, this isolation, this retreat is all about.

ON FIRST BLUSH: Yes, it does seem that a comma is missing in that example; and that your analysis looks solid to me.

The commas in the example seem to be bracketing commas, where they are bracketing supplements which have the appearance of having the form of an appositional construction. That is: there are two expressions -- "this isolation" and "this retreat" -- that are supposed to be supplements (whose ultimate anchor is the expression "this struggle"), but the last expression is missing its ending bracketing comma.

It seems that your example sentence ought to be punctuated as you suggested, for the reasons that you suggested. That is,

  • 2.) That's what this struggle, this isolation, this retreat, is all about.

BUT . . . see below


On second thought, there is another possibility. Having read the comments to the OP's main post, it now dawns on me that the three expressions could be in the form of an asyndetic "AND" coordination. That is, the original sentence has the meaning of:

  • 3.) That's what this struggle and this isolation and this retreat is all about.

And if that was what the author wanted as their interpretation, than the original punctuation of version #1 is, er, appropriate. But as this thread has demonstrated, the author's choice of punctuating this sentence seems to perhaps not been the best choice after all.

At the moment, I'm thinking that the author probably did mean to have the interpretation of version #3, for when I was analyzing version #2 earlier, its reading didn't quite seem right to me -- it seemed a bit weak -- and I thought the author would've tweaked it to make it stronger.

So, my current answer is that the original punctuation of version #1 is what was intended by the author -- the commas as used are for asyndetic "AND" coordination (and are not used for bracketing supplements).

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