The sentence is "How I won and lost my first employee"

How I won, and lost, my first employee is how I would say it out loud but this seems excessive.

  • How I won (and lost)my
  • How I won, and lost my
  • How I won and lost my

Is there a 'correct' interpretation or does it fall somewhat to personal writing preference?

West Canadian if it matters. Thanks.

  • Where commas are placed will change the meaning. If you paraphrase your intended meaning, you will clarify your question. See also the 2006 book, "Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation". – Theresa Oct 3 '14 at 19:35
  • It's entirely up to you. If you want to imitate the way you would say it, that's the right way. When you hear them, use them. And when you see them, hear them. That's what they mean when they say commas can change meaning; intonation can change meaning, and commas represent (one variety of) intonation. – John Lawler Oct 3 '14 at 23:23

You will probably want to use an em dash:

How I won – and lost – my first employee.

Alternatively you could use an elipsis:

How I won ... and lost ... my first employee.

Further information on em dash and elipsis can be found here

By the way it's a little awkward to refer to "winning" a person. "Won over" is a term that is commonly used, referring to winning a person's support or affection, but to say you "won" a person is not the connotation you probably want, especially not an employee, as it implies that you might think of the employee as being in a sort of master/slave relationship where you "own" the employee because you "won" the employee.

It would be better to say, for instance:

How I gained – and lost – my first employee.
How I found ... and lost ... my first employee.
How I hired – and lost – my first employee.

In the examples provided in the question:

1) How I won (and lost) my first employee. The use of parentheses indicates non-essential information, whereas this particular information is essential. So the parentheses is not ideal for the intended meaning. Another problem with parentheses is that sometimes people read them without much of a pause (since it's supposed to be non-essential information that the reader can usually speed through).

2) How I won, and lost my first employee. There are so many rules about using commas that it's generally a good idea to avoid using them to try and mimic speech when you wouldn't normally put them in written form. This usage violates one of the comma rules as another poster already pointed out.

3) How I won and lost my first employee. This doesn't indicate the intended pauses.


No commas are required. A comma may not be used to separate the verbs in a compound predicate (two verbs with the same subject). See item 13 at this link: https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/607/02/

  • I apparently cannot yet comment on others' posts, so I will add this here. @Brillig correctly states that this sentence without commas shows no indications for pauses. I took the original question to be about an existing sentence that Travis only thought should require pauses. If Travis is asking about his own sentence and wants pauses, em dashes—which look like this—would work. Most Canadian style guides call for no spaces around the em dash. For me, ellipses really slow things down. I prefer to only use them to indicate omission of a phrase, or at the end of sentences that trail off... – at Thoughtfleditor Oct 3 '14 at 22:38
  • 1
    A comma may be used to separate the verbs in a compound predicate: Compound Predicate 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. Tina Blue is sensibly less prescriptivist here. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 3 '14 at 22:59
  • Thank you for providing Ms. Blue's opinion, but as she explains, her own examples of this usage are all superfluous. Naturally, an author may punctuate however she wishes, sensibly or otherwise. – at Thoughtfleditor Oct 4 '14 at 14:41
  • This contradicts your blanket statement 'A comma may not be used to separate the verbs in a compound predicate' (I'm assuming the 'may not' = 'must not' reading). And I'd certainly use a 'non-grammatical' comma where I thought it would make things clearer (and have posted other articles endorsing this practice); a comma used to make things clearer is hardly 'superfluous' (except to the syntax). – Edwin Ashworth Oct 4 '14 at 15:05

"How I won and lost my first employee" is correct, as atThoughtfleditor said.

"How I won (and lost) my first employee" is also correct and may be more interesting to the reader. The parentheses add a subtle hint that perhaps the author made a mistake, did not intend to lose the employee, and gained a little humility and wisdom through the experience.

  • The first sentence above doesn't indicate a pause in speech, and even a parentheses doesn't necessarily indicate a pause. Another problem with the parentheses is that it indicates non-essential information, whereas this particular information is essential. So the parentheses is, in fact, not correct for the intended meaning. An em dash or elipsis both indicate a pause and can set off essential information, so these are clearly superior to parentheses. – Brillig Oct 3 '14 at 20:11
  • @Brillig: I agree parentheses are used to indicate words that are not essential. A sentence must be grammatically correct if the parenthetical information is removed. However, "non-essential" does not mean "unimportant". Parentheses can include clarifying information. In some instances, parentheses can emphasize content. I also agree that parentheses do not always indicate a pause when reading aloud. I usually use a higher or lower tone when reading parenthetical text. – kevinbatchcom Oct 4 '14 at 10:51

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