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Consider the following example:

This paper will turn red rather than blue which is her favorite colour.

What colour does she like, red or blue? Is there a comma missing after blue? Will adding it solve the confusion? Also, are sentences like these used in written English?

Are turning red and turning blue verbs in the sentence and colour the object?

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    Favorite color red: This paper will turn red, rather than blue, which is her favorite colour. Favorite color red: This paper will turn red (which is her favorite colour), rather than blue. Favorite color blue: This paper will turn red, rather than blue (which is her favorite colour.) – anongoodnurse Sep 24 '14 at 10:27
  • @medica Does it imply that this sentence without commas is grammatically incorrect? – Renae Lider Sep 24 '14 at 10:33
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    It's grammatically correct with or without commas, but its meaning is ambiguous and it's stylistically poor. – ElendilTheTall Sep 24 '14 at 10:35
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    The verbs are will, turn, and is. – snailcar Sep 24 '14 at 11:48
  • Whether or not the sentence as written is ambiguous, I don't know. But if it is not ambiguous, then we cannot know for certain that what the sentence says is what the author meant it to say, so it should be written in a different way. – gnasher729 Sep 24 '14 at 17:26
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Generally modifiers, or modifying phrases, come right after or right before the word they modify.

Adding the comma makes things clearer and makes the sentence seem a bit less like a "run-on" sentence, though in speech you probably won't hear a distinct pause between "blue" and "which."

This paper will turn red rather than blue, which is her favorite colour.

So "blue" is her favorite color, because "which is her favorite color" comes right after "blue."

Something similar you might hear/read:

This paper will turn red rather than her favorite color, blue

To say red is her favorite color:

This paper will turn red, which is her favorite colour, rather than blue.

Omitting the commas here would definitely be awkward.


Putting comma right before rather?

This paper will turn red, rather than blue which is her favorite color

Nope, this doesn't really change the meaning of it. It just slightly more emphasizes the fact that the paper will turn red - emphasizing "This paper will turn red" as the main idea in the sentence.

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  • A very good answer this is. Wouldn't there be one more case if you put a comma right before rather? – Renae Lider Sep 24 '14 at 10:55
  • See edits. Sorry about confusing edit earlier, I misread your comment. :) – ultrasawblade Sep 24 '14 at 11:23
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Yes, it is an awkward sentence that would be much clearer with commas (although it is technically acceptable as is). In this sentence, red and blue are used as common nouns because the color names are being used to identify the class or group they belong to; these words are more commonly used as adjectives.

So two conditions make this a tricky sentence: it could be clearer with the addition of commas; the unusual use of the adjective as noun.

Regarding the fourth question: this would be an unusual sentence from most standard English speakers. Clarity of communication is important.

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