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I write the following sentence as follows: "The lady spent a few seconds gently patting the two chocobos at the coach, a popular species of avian bred throughout the country".

Where does one draw the line between technicality and overcoming the fear of ambiguity? That is to say, to be technical (as I understand it) would be to put the comma after "chocobos", and then close "a popular species...the country" with another comma before writing "at the coach". It is parenthetical information, as I understand it.

Yet, it seems clear that there ought not to be any ambiguity - (but not because we already know what a coach is) - as it appears that the subject of the extra information is "chocobos", and not "coach", which happens to just be where they are at.

In short, is this sentence legit (i.e., is it written without much cause for concern as far as format or grammar is concerned)?

Thanks to all who take the time to respond, and I apologise for my messy title.

  • I'm not sure that any placement of commas will make that sentence less awkward. – Hot Licks Jan 1 '15 at 15:12
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    What's wrong with: "The lady spent a few seconds at the coach gently patting the two chocobos, a popular species of avian bred throughout the country"? – Peter Shor Jan 1 '15 at 15:15
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    "The lady spent a few seconds gently patting the two chocobos – a popular species of avian bred throughout the country – at the coach." Though the parenthetical is so off-piste that I'd personally use two separate sentences: "The lady spent a few seconds at the coach gently patting the two birds. They were chocobos – a popular species of avian bred throughout the country." – Edwin Ashworth Jan 1 '15 at 15:29
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    @PeterShor hit it. When in doubt, recast the sentence. Don't try to force-fit something that doesn't work. – Robusto Jan 1 '15 at 15:39
  • Thanks, @PeterShor & Robusto. It seems so obvious now. Lesson learned: When the simplest of solutions arises from seemingly baffling problems, take a break from working! (Thank you, too, Edwin, but in this case I don't want to highlight them too much by using two different sentences). – Alan K. Jan 6 '15 at 17:23
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In addition to Peter Shor's sensible suggestion (in a comment above) to recast the sentence as

The lady spent a few seconds at the coach gently patting the two chocobos, a popular species of avian bred throughout the country.

you have the option of moving "at the coach" even farther forward in the sentence:

At the coach, the lady spent a few seconds gently patting the two chocobos, a popular species of avian bred throughout the country.

The advantage that either of these rearranged wordings has over the original—

The lady spent a few seconds gently patting the two chocobos at the coach, a popular species of avian bred throughout the country.

—is that the independent clause describing what a chocobo is appears immediately adjacent to the word chocobos, instead of next to the word coach.

The point here isn't that readers are incapable of figuring out what goes with what; it's that every such search-and-identify operation adds an instant or two to the process of making sense of the text—and over the length of a story or article or research paper, those extra instants can add up to a significant (and avoidable) burden. When the writer puts in the effort to make the intended connections as clear as possible, all of his or her readers benefit.

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