In the following example, should a comma be used after the word* mouth*? A bumblebee flew into Peter's open mouth is the independent clause, and I believe that if a dependent clause or phrase comes after, then a comma is not used.

A bumblebee flew into Peter's open mouth, stinging the poor boy's tongue, which swelled up as big and as blue as an eggplant.

Thanks for your help.

  • The first thing to say is that Peter was very unlucky, since although female bumblebees can sting, it is quite unusual for them to trouble humans or animals in the way that wasps and honeybees do. As regards punctuation I do not think I would include both the commas, since the phrase between them is not parenthetical. I would eliminate one or other of them. Others may disagree. – WS2 Nov 16 '14 at 18:04
  • @WS2 you cannot remove the comma before which without also making changes to the second part of the sentence (this usage of which comes after a comma). – Tommy Nov 16 '14 at 23:05
  • @Tommy Then remove the other one. If I were writing this I would make it two sentences. – WS2 Nov 16 '14 at 23:17

You need both commas the way this sentence is structured. The first can be removed with minor edits. The subject bee is performing two verbs, flew, sting, but there is no conjunction. The first comma is acting as the conjunction here. You also cannot remove the second as this usage of which comes after a comma.

I also think the commas put emphasis on the middle part of the sentence, the stinging of the boy's mouth.

  • Thanks so much for the help. I understand why the last comma is used. But could you explain the reasons for the first. Are there any particular comma usage "rules" being used. Like I've said the thing that's confusing me is the fact that I've been taught a comma should never be used if an independant clause proceeded a dependant clause. – Rich Boston Nov 17 '14 at 8:24
  • I agree with Tommy's analysis and recommendation. To drop the first comma, you could simply change "flew into Peter's open mouth, stinging" to "flew into Peter's open mouth and stung." The reason you need the comma is to indicate that the actor responsible fro the stinging is the bee and not Peter's mouth; of course, you already know that this is the only rational association possible in this case, but the comma rule here regularizes the association for any pair of "competing" nouns. – Sven Yargs Dec 3 '14 at 19:22

Yes, it should, as the comma plus the gerund (stinging) is in such case replacement for "and stung". The use of the gerund is therein go inject drama into the narration of the incident and to transfer smoothly the reader's attention from the bumblebee, Peter, and his mouth, to his tongue...now "big and blue as an eggplant". Thus, the comma is needed to mark the natural pause at that point in the flow of the message being conveyed sort of dramatically. And "A bumblebee flew into Peter's open mouth and stung the poor boy's tongue" sounds flat, and, furthermore, the transfer of attention to the swollen tongue results choppy.

  • Welcome to the site, Maria-Erlinda Martinez. Most writers would class stinging as a participle, not a gerund in that sentence – tunny Nov 16 '14 at 18:27
  • It would appear I have much to learn. Gurund, participle. Just when I think I've learned most rules when using a comma, I find there is more! – Richard Nov 16 '14 at 19:51

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