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What I want to say is that the church would be your hospital, the holy water would be your medicine, and the priest would be your doctor. But since "would be" seems too overused and redundant in the sentence, I want to say it like this:

"The church would be your hospital, the holy water, your medicine, and the priest, your doctor."

Which commas in the above sentence are redundant and should be removed? I have a similar confusion with the following sentence too:

"Ball comes from the Latin word, bull, which also means a male cow, or, in other words, an ox."

When there are too many commas in a sentence, what rule of thumb must one follow to determine which one to retain and which ones to discard?

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I would punctuate it as:

"The church would be your hospital, the holy water your medicine, and the priest your doctor"

on the basis that the commas are then separating items in a list.

To be frank though, I think the option you rejected ("The church would be your hospital, the holy water would be your medicine, and the priest would be your doctor.") sounds a lot nicer with the paralleled 'would be'. Think of the famous "We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets" with its repeated 'we shall fight', and how lame it would sound as "We shall fight on the beaches, on the landing grounds, in the fields, and in the streets" to avoid repetition.

Your second sentence does have too many commas. For this one I would go with:

"Ball comes from the Latin word bull, which also means a male cow or, in other words, an ox."

I do it this way so that the stand-alone phrase 'ball comes from the Latin word bull' is uninterrupted, and the the following clause is separated by a comma. Then separate out 'in other words' as a parenthetical statement.

Rule of thunb? Punctuation is as much art as science, but keeping it to a minimum is a good guideline. If you look at the sentence and think there are too may commas, there probably are.

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