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Another nitpicky comma question that I hope you will help me to resolve.

How does one need to punctuate the noun of direct address (or vocative) in the middle of the sentence that goes directly after coordinating conjunction connecting two independent clauses in a compound sentence? Are the bracketed commas required in the examples below?

Examples:

I was going to accept your resignation later, but[,] John, have you considered all the options first?

I will be flying with the executive committee to London, and[,] John, will you be coming with us?

Ignore the actual examples. I just want to understand the punctuation.

My research and some other threads on this site seem to suggest that eliding the middle 'after-conjunction' comma is allowed as the style decision in cases where the conjunction used to connect two independent clauses is followed by an introductory or parenthetical phrase (some references at the bottom). But would that be allowed for nouns of direct address as well, and if yes, could we then conclude that it's an acceptable style to drop the first bracketing comma after conjunction irrespective of the type of the bracketed element (introductory, parenthetical, aside, noun of direct address, etc.)?

Would this style be allowed in formal, technical documents?

References from a few sources below.

Dr Charles Darling:

When a parenthetical element — an interjection, adverbial modifier, or even an adverbial clause — follows a coordinating conjunction used to connect two independent clauses, we do not put a comma in front of the parenthetical element.

Science and Technical Writing: A Manual of Style:

An introductory word, phrase, or clause following a coordinating conjunction in a compound sentence leaves the writer with several options:

Option 1: The curves in figure 2 are less familiar with geometrical objects that those in figure 1, but, other than the top curve, they have a reasonable shape.

Option 2: …in figure 1, but other than the top curve, they have…

The first option includes all the punctuation that the sentence structure suggests. However, at least one comma could be eliminated (second option) without sacrificing clarity.

Morson's English Guide for Court Reporters:

When a parenthetical or unnecessary expression precedes the second clause in a compound sentence, keep the comma before the conjunction and use one comma after the parenthetical expression.

EXAMPLES

l. I liked him very much, but to tell you the truth, he was a liar.

m. He was standing on my left, and if I remember correctly, he wore a gray overcoat.

n. I wondered how I missed seeing her, and as a matter of fact, I still do not believe she passed my desk.

  • << I was going to accept your resignation later; but, John, have you considered all the options first? (or two sentences) >>. I can't even tell if this is a 'super-comma usage'. The second example perhaps has two disparate elements that really would be better in two sentences: << I will be flying with the executive committee to London. John, will you be coming with us?>> If the whole is more cohesive, I'd prefer << I will be flying with the executive committee to London – and I wonder, John, will you be coming with us? >> – Edwin Ashworth Aug 14 '15 at 21:33
  • Thanks @EdwinAshworth, but if let's say, for the sake of the argument, semicolons, dashes or two sentences are not available, would the no 2nd comma option be acceptable and preferred over the all-comma option? – Paul S. Aug 14 '15 at 21:47
  • Now you're asking for a judgment call. I could probably, given a day or two, find style guides giving opposite opinions. What's the point? Punctuation is a well-known minefield, and comma usage is a particularly contentious area. 'May we use commas to signal pauses in spoken narrative even when they are traditionally inappropriate as they do not indicate grammatical structure?' 'Can we legally drop traditional commas where they seem to serve little purpose (eg before some quotes)?' I would not use either of your suggested 2- and 3- comma versions. The 2-comma version doesn't signal ... – Edwin Ashworth Aug 15 '15 at 10:07
  • the pause I'd want to convey to the reader, and the 3-comma version looks messy, is garden-pathy, and doesn't signal the different pause-lengths I'd want it to. To me, you're asking 'Which is better, 3 x 10 is about 29, or 3 x 10 is about 31?' And assuming that some czar has actually decreed the answer at some time in the past (though doubtless some pseudo-czar has tried to). And that everyone else since then has blindly accepted the czar's ruling as gospel. Look up other articles here on comma usages to get a better perspective. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 15 '15 at 10:13
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    '... we do not put a comma in front of the parenthetical element.' is obviously far more prescriptive than 'An introductory word, phrase, or clause following a coordinating conjunction in a compound sentence leaves the writer with several options … The first option includes all the punctuation that the sentence structure suggests. However, at least one comma could be eliminated (second option) without sacrificing clarity.' I'd probably get rid of this comma to reduce clutter, but might well read the sentence aloud with the pause it once signalled. One does one need to get rid of it. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 27 '15 at 8:16
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The three reference guidelines that you quote in your question evidently apply to any "parenthetical element," "introductory word, phrase, or clause," or "parenthetical or unnecessary expression" that immediately follows a coordinating conjunction—and the direct-address word "John" in your example is simply one such element, word, or expression.

That being the case, it seems to me that all three sources you cite would endorse omitting a comma immediately after the conjunction, yielding these sentences:

I was going to accept your resignation later, but John, have you considered all the options first?

I will be flying with the executive committee to London, and John, will you be coming with us?

The only asterisk attached to this endorsement is that Science and Technical Writing: A Manual of Style also approves of the alternative punctuation with a comma after the coordinating conjunction:

I was going to accept your resignation later, but, John, have you considered all the options first?

I will be flying with the executive committee to London, and, John, will you be coming with us?

So if you're following Dr. Darling or Morson, you should omit the comma after and or but; and if you're following Science & Technical Writing, you can choose either to omit the comma or to include it. I should note, however, that these three sources do not speak for more than themselves: there is no universally recognized rule of punctuation on this point.

Having said all that, I must reiterate Edwin Ashworth's suggestion that either preceding the conjunction with a semicolon or breaking the compound sentence into two sentences would do more to clarify the sense of the sentence on first reading than simply adopting one or the other approach to the comma question. Alternatively, in the first example, shifting "John" to a position immediately before the conjunction instead of immediately after it would enable you to punctuate the interior of the compound sentence entirely with commas, without fogging up the construction:

I was going to accept your resignation later, John, but have you considered all the options first?

In the second example, merely relocating "John" is less satisfactory because the choice of and as the coordinating conjunction becomes less appealing when "John" moves elsewhere. In that case, I would consider introducing an em-dash to indicate a redirection of thought midway through the compound sentence:

I will be flying with the executive committee to London—and will you be coming with us, John?

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"This is red but that is blue". "None but I shall read it". In both these examples the coordinating conjunction "but" provides a structure for contrasting. It does not need a comma.

Things get more complicated. "None but you John shall go" does not make sense because the construct "you John" is not meaningful. "None, but you John shall go" also lacks clarity. "None but you, John shall go" is ambiguous or meaningless. Only "None but you, John, shall go" makes sense because it clearly puts "John" in apposition to "you", identifying them one with the other. I feel this is true of most constructions of this sort.

Like Darling, I usually remove a comma before "but" but, in view of the arguments for clear apposition or unambiguous parenthetic material, retain a parenthetic pair of commas around the modifying clause or noun that sometimes follows it.

  • I think that Darling is saying that you don't put the comma before John; he's not saying anything about the comma before "but." He would approve "And John, could you give me a hand here?" I agree with that. – ewormuth Aug 15 '15 at 0:20
  • Hi @Anton. Thanks for the comment, but the original example has "but John, you" and not the other way around in which case - I agree two commas. But in my example it's the conjunction that connects 2 8ndependent clauses that requires comma before a conjunction and the persons name who is being address directly after. Darling is saying no comma is needed after conjunction for parenthetical (he is not alone), so I am trying to understand if the same applies to vocatives. And if this practice is acceptable in formal writing. – Paul S. Aug 15 '15 at 0:33
  • FYI: the question is still not answered. – Paul S. Oct 20 '15 at 18:22
  • The 'but' in 'None but/except I shall read it' and '"None but/except you, John, shall go"' is certainly not the coordinating conjunction incarnation. It's usually classed as a preposition. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 27 '15 at 8:33

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