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I'm trying to correctly punctuate the following sentence:

During this time, the rats were also being trained via Pavlovian conditioning to associate a tone and a darkening of the room with the reward being available.

The structure is as follows:

(tone and darkening of the room) with (the reward being available)

As it is, it seems messy as the clauses aren't clearly separated. However, if I were to put a comma after the with it would seem inconsistent since you wouldn't put a comma in a sentence like, "I associated the tone with the reward". Could someone explain the relevant grammatical rules?

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  • I think the punctuation is fine. To me, the most awkward part of the sentence is the phrase "the reward being available,"—partly because "reward" seems like an odd word to use to describe a treat that appears regardless of anything the rats have done, and partly because "the reward being available" just sounds klunky. Maybe you could replace that phrase with "a treat appearing in their food tray," or something like that.
    – Sven Yargs
    May 9 '15 at 8:00
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Changing and to as well as and then creating a non-restrictive clause using commas will allow the sentence to be read without the and a darkening of the room part, thus clearing up the confusion.

During this time, the rats were also being trained via Pavlovian conditioning to associate a tone, as well as a darkening of the room, with the reward being available.

Relevant grammatical rules
In this case, the only thing needed to be said is that the non-restrictive clause is essentially being paired with the clause before it, so the reader knows the two go together in some way.

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  • Thanks, this is a nice solution, although I'm still interested in knowing the correct way of punctuating the sentence I provided as is
    – Casebash
    May 9 '15 at 11:08
  • @Casebash To do that you would just add the commas I mentioned. As well as isn't really needed, but I just thought it'd make the point clearer.
    – Adam
    May 9 '15 at 15:56
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During this time, the rats were also being trained via Pavlovian conditioning to associate a tone, and a darkening of the room, with the reward being available.

I'm not an expert in grammar or naming parts of sentences and such, but the commas in the above version might help clarify the main thought, simply by forcing pauses when the passage is read aloud.

Parentheses may also work:

During this time, the rats were also being trained via Pavlovian conditioning to associate a tone (and a darkening of the room) with the reward being available.

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