When a sentence has two long compound predicates, why do people insist on placing a comma between them? The answers I received the last time were that it's just plain wrong, but I come across this pattern all the time.

Here's a sentence to demonstrate:

Ashcroft announced his intentions to the media Sunday after stark criticism , and withheld from revealing anything else for the rest of the conference.

Why oh why is there a comma after Sunday? Don't tell me it's wrong because it's being used far too often, by far too many writers┬╣.

Often, the second predicate begins with and that or so that, with the comma.

┬╣ Despite having asked this question in the past, I'm looking for others' opinions on this antagonising issue! I swear, everytime I come across this type of construct it's causes me to shiver slightly.

  • Because the comma indicates where a speaker would pause in normal utterance of the sentence. Y'know, what commas were invented for. – Dan Bron Sep 21 '15 at 22:52
  • I'm not clear what you mean by a second predicate. In your sentence the verb is announced, the direct object is his intentions whilst Sunday and stark criticism are indirect object clauses with prepositions on (elided) and after. – WS2 Sep 21 '15 at 22:57
  • I think they mean a long verb phrase, not a compound verb. And the answer is not that it's a place for a pause -- pauses are rare in actual speech -- but rather that it's a place where a speaker can use the characteristic comma intonation curve (without pausing), or not use it, depending on what they want to say. If the speaker does use it, it should be transcribed with a comma; if not, there should be no commas. Commas are not determined by the kind of word or predicate or phrase they precede or follow, but only on how it is pronounced. – John Lawler Sep 21 '15 at 23:26
  • @JohnLawler Can you elaborate on the phonetic differences between "a pause" and a "characteristic comma intonation curve" and in particular how they'd be perceived by the listener (not the speaker)? – Dan Bron Sep 21 '15 at 23:33
  • 1
    The rules for commas are conventions of style for written language to make it easier for readers to parse text. There are, of course, different conventions, and the proponents sometimes treat the divergences as grounds for religious war. Placement of commas as directed by these conventions may or may not coincide with the pauses and "CCICs" of someone reading the text aloud, but they are often associated with adjacent constructs. For example, the commas that follow introductory adverbial clauses or the commas that separate list elements of compound constructs. [con't->] – deadrat Sep 22 '15 at 1:17

I believe that the usage of a comma in a compound-predicate sentence is an exception that serves to clarify the logical meaning of the sentence.

There are two rules that I'm aware of:

  1. When two independent clauses are separated by a coordinating conjunction, a comma should be used. Example:

I wanted to go the store, but Mom said that we had to leave for the airport.

  1. When a sentence has a compound predicate, no comma should be used. Example:

I wanted to go to the store but had to leave for the airport.

The exception to rule #2, as far as I know, is when the lack of a comma causes the sentence to have two possible meanings. Example:

I saw the kid who tripped and laughed.

In the sentence above, the meaning could be either "I saw the kid who tripped; I laughed at his misfortune" or "I saw the kid who both tripped and laughed."

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This sentence: Ashcroft announced his intentions to the media Sunday after stark criticism, and withheld from revealing anything else for the rest of the conference.

is poorly constructed.

1) The verbs do not match. A compound sentences (or a sentence with a compound predicate) calls for two sentences joined by "and" (or another conjunction) but their structure (in good writing) must be parallel.

2) The use of withheld is incorrect: Ordinarily, withheld is an action verb used like this: We withheld information from the audience. One withholds something from someone. A person does not withhold from doing something.

And not: We withheld from informing the audience. The only possible reading I can come up with is that the author meant to say: And he held back on revealing etc. That could be used but why use it if it provides no additional semantic meaning?

Better would have been:

Ashcroft announced his intentions to the media Sunday after stark criticism and revealed nothing else for the rest of the conference.

That is a simpler construction and parallel. And obviously, in a parallel construction, there would be no comma as may be seen in the reference given below.

For those who like references, here is a link to parallel construction

Comma usage can be complicated but in a well-constructed parallel compound sentence (or a sentence with a compound predicate), there simply is no need for one. Indeed, it's really one of the simplest notions without any ambiguity or complexity.

Note: This is not a compound sentence entirely. It's one sentence with a compound predicate.

The girls sang songs and made jokes all night. No commas.

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