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Why is the comma before the infinitive?

The Roman state was a parasite, draining men and wealth from the island while failing, or not even trying, to defend it from Picts, Irish and Saxons.

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    {Independent clause}(comma){dependent clause} -- please also visit English Language Learners – Kris Mar 31 '15 at 5:58
  • Why the down vote to the question? – Kris Mar 31 '15 at 10:49
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The commas in this case are bookending a piece of additional information, which could just as easily be enclosed in brackets or a dash (depending on the relative importance of that additional information) or else omitted altogether.

Compare:

...draining men and wealth from the island while failing, or not even trying, to defend it from Picts, Irish and Saxons.

...draining men and wealth from the island while failing (or not even trying) to defend it from Picts, Irish and Saxons.

...draining men and wealth from the island while failing - or not even trying - to defend it from Picts, Irish and Saxons.

...draining men and wealth from the island while failing to defend it from Picts, Irish and Saxons.

  • The OP's example does not necessarily mean a parenthetical. "Enclosed in brackets or a dash" is not relevant to the Q. – Kris Mar 31 '15 at 10:49

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