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I read this sentence in a book on writing. "The wooden dock was crowded, everyone excited for the show to start." Isn't this incorrect? If your combining to clauses don't you need to use and? Also why omit the was?

So, it should be "The wooden dock was crowded and everyone was excited for the show to start." I have doubts because I read this in a book dealing with writing.

The full excerpt is:

On a warm August evening on a pier in Cherry Grove, New York, I watched a display of fireworks. The wooden dock was crowded, everyone excited for the show to start. Police boats and fire boats whizzed around on the water.

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These are not two independent clauses, so they don't get joined by a conjunction. everyone excited ... describes the nature and reason for the crowd on the dock.

You could also view it as an elided preposition. It could be restated as something like:

The wooden dock was crowded, with everyone excited for the show to start.

  • Right. So you would treat it like a list then? As in: "There is a crowd, people screaming, boats whizzing by." – LoBagola Feb 8 '15 at 6:21
  • No, it's not a list. It's just describing what went before. – Barmar Feb 8 '15 at 6:26
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    I agree -- the "with" version corresponds to what is called an absolute construction in other languages. In Latin, it's the "ablative absolute". In English, it gives an accompanying circumstance. – Greg Lee Feb 8 '15 at 6:47
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The example sentence isn't a simple comma splice situation: You can't replace the comma with a semicolon and be done with it, because the clause after the semicolon would be incomplete:

The wooden dock was crowded; everyone excited for the show to start.

To make it whole, you'd have to add a was between everyone and excited—but unfortunately the result sounds almost as wooden as the dock. The alternative of replacing the comma with and, and then discreetly inserting the was as before, yields the same trudging effect:

The wooden dock was crowded and everyone was excited for the show to start.

But this isn't what the author meant to say. Instead, the effect of the truncated language is intentional, and what seems to have been omitted is a short clarifying phrase such as "on it," as follows:

The wooden dock was crowded, everyone [on it] excited for the show to start.

This is a livelier sentence, with or without "on it," but I think it would have worked better with those two words explicitly included. Certainly readers would have been less likely to misunderstand the sentence structure that the author was trying to use.

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On a warm August evening on a pier in Cherry Grove, New York, I watched a display of fireworks. The wooden dock was crowded, everyone excited for the show to start. Police boats and fire boats whizzed around on the water.

This construction is perfectly grammatical, although it is often positioned at the beginning of the sentence, to stress its role of explaining why people crowded the dock. Then positioned at the end of the sentence, it could have less of this "explaining" power, and be more "descriptive". As a non-native speaker, I'm not sure.

It is called an "absolute construction".

An absolute construction has no syntactic link to the main clause, but it is subordinate in form. In our case, it is a past-participle clause: the word "excited" is a past participle.

If you use and and add the finite verb was, you will have turned the clause into a finite clause

The wooden dock was crowded and everyone was excited for the show to start.

...here we have two finite clauses which state two separate facts. Each clause is independent of the other clause, while in the original text the second clause is semantically dependent upon the first.


A broader term, used by Huddleston and Pullum, is "supplement". Sometimes a supplement misses a subject and its missing subject is controlled by the subject in the main clause:

Excited for the show to start, people crowded the wooden dock.

..here the link between the two clauses is stronger, because the supplement has no subject of its own (like "everyone"), and we understand that it's the "people" who were "excited for the show to start".

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There is not really enough context for the sentence for me to form an opinion on whether the sentence is correct of not. But including or excluding the "and" and "was" may be a stylistic device the author to using to set mood, or convey emotion. With "and" and "was", the sentence seems (at least to me) a bit more relaxed; without them, I get a sense of a bit more excitement among the crowd on the dock.

  • "On a warm August evening on a pier in Cherry Grove, New York, I watched a display of fireworks. The wooden dock was crowded, everyone excited for the show to start. Police boats and fire boats whizzed around on the water." But strictly, the grammar of that sentence is incorrect, yes? – LoBagola Feb 8 '15 at 6:07
  • In my view, even though the sentence may be in some use less desirable than this one, it does not contain incorrect grammar. I see it as somewhat analogous to a poet using a nonstandard spelling, for example, using "o'er" to force a rhyme with "more". Many "rules" of grammar can be broken by writers for good reason without the nonconformity being incorrect. – brasshat Feb 8 '15 at 6:13
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The construction is grammatical, as the and and was in the phrase [and] everyone [was] excited are unstated but understood. This is a common narrative technique. A couple of other quick examples:

The scene was chaotic, everything destroyed.

Waves lapped gently at the shore, the waters warm and clear as glass.

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    As per @Barmar's answer, these are not two independent clauses, so they don't get joined by a conjunction. It's misleading to propose an "elided" and (also requiring an elided was). Much better to go for the more semantically-coherent with, since the text goes on to say more about the explicit subject (the crowded dock). – FumbleFingers Feb 11 '15 at 0:15

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