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I was editing some text for an open source math book today, and came across this sentence:

The previous 8 axioms have basically said "these numbers are all natural numbers." This next and final axiom states "these numbers are all of the natural numbers."

I was going to suggest putting a comma after the words 'said' and 'states', because of the normal usage in dialog. But this isn't really dialog, and it doesn't really seem like it should require the slight pause that the comma indicates. What's the convention here?

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    The convention calls for commas, and it is one of the most pointless and annoying conventions the publishing houses have imposed. – StoneyB on hiatus Dec 24 '14 at 1:59
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    The most sensible approach would be to include a comma where there would be a pause if you spoke the sentence, and omit it where there would be no pause. Let's not be slaves to conventions that have no useful purpose. – Erik Kowal Dec 24 '14 at 2:47
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    I'm sure no comma should be used here. There's no quotation, direct or indirect, per se. Said and stated are used in a metaphorical sense. – Kris Dec 24 '14 at 7:52
  • @StoneyB What is the convention? Does it transcend/ignore semantics? – Kris Dec 24 '14 at 7:53
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My late English teachers universally taught that quotation marks delimit direct quotations so if these are not direct quotes, I would omit the commas, but also omit the quotation marks. One of my English teachers would have given me a downgrade for "basically" in this usage, as it contributes nothing useful to the sentence structure, so my inclination would be to edit that word out.

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