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He looked at the skies fully saturated with blue paint.

or

He looked at the skies, fully saturated with blue paint.

Is "fully saturated with blue paint" here an essential or nonessential element of the sentence and should it be separated by a comma?

Edit: removed the before blue paint as recommended by chasly from UK.

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    The second version gives me the impression that he was full of blue paint, not the skies. So I would opt for the version without the comma.
    – oerkelens
    Commented Aug 8, 2015 at 22:04
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    Can't tell. "There were 10 similar-looking landscapes before John. How could he tell which one was the Constable? He looked at the skies fully saturated with the blue paint." // "John liked the set of landscapes. He looked at the skies, fully saturated with the blue paint." Commented Aug 8, 2015 at 22:09
  • @oerkelens Yes, I agree. I feel the same way. Commented Aug 8, 2015 at 22:09
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    So your question should be 'He looked at the skies, which were fully saturated with the blue paint.' vs 'He looked at the skies which were fully saturated with the blue paint.' Commented Aug 8, 2015 at 22:12
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    You need to use a simpler pair of examples to see what's happening. Listen to the man, talking about his parents. = Listen to the man: [he's] talking about his parents. // Listen to the man talking about his parents. = Listen to the man – the one who is talking about his parents. In the second case (first variant), the reduced relative clause is defining (identifying which particular man). Commented Aug 8, 2015 at 22:56

1 Answer 1

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The sentence is bad writing to begin with. It is not clear. This is why there are so many opinions about what it means and how to "fix" it. Bad writing always needs justification. Good writing speaks for itself.

Without knowing what you want to convey to the reader, I can't offer any "fixes" for this. Who is saturated with blue paint? He or the sky? What does saturated with blue paint mean? Sponges are saturated but skies cannot be saturated...maybe with water moisture, which produces rain.

Keep it short and simple, and when you feel a reader might be confused, trust that instinct and rewrite from scratch.

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