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I found this sentence in http://www.thefreedictionary.com/lesser

“He was feared by other, lesser, men.”

is this sentence correct in grammar?

I can't make sense out of it. I suppose it should be "He was feared by other lesser men". is my opinion correct? thank you

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  • 5
    You may find our sister site, English Language Learners helpful. This is a basic punctuation question.
    – WS2
    Oct 22, 2015 at 7:45
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    Drop the second comma and it's fine.
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 22, 2015 at 7:53
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    @HotLicks - I've just commented under an answer, but I'll ask you as well: if you were saying this aloud, would you not pause, as if for a comma, after "lesser"?
    – JHCL
    Oct 22, 2015 at 8:18
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    @Rathony - If you regard it as a list of attributes ("other, lesser" with only one comma) then it words just fine as it stands.
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 22, 2015 at 8:30
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    If you think it's a list, try changing the order and see if the meaning changes.
    – JHCL
    Oct 22, 2015 at 8:32

7 Answers 7

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In your sentence He was feared by other lesser men, he is a 'lesser man' and other men, who are also 'lesser men', fear him. In the dictionary sentence He was feared by other, lesser, men, the parenthetical commas separate out the 'lesser' making it clear that he is feared by other men, who are lesser.

See section 4 here for use of parenthetical commas.

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    Ricky... look at the time stamps. I was two minutes ahead of you. Plus I provided a link to more information... Oct 22, 2015 at 8:26
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    @RoaringFish: Apology accepted.
    – Ricky
    Oct 22, 2015 at 9:40
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    Not sure these are parenthetical commas. Section 8 of the document you link to seems to be a better match for this case. "* As a general rule, if you can put the word 'and' or 'or' between the adjectives, then the comma is appropriate. If you cannot, the comma should be omitted. ". I'd say the original sentence can be equivalent to "*He was feared by other and lesser men" (although the original style is probably better).
    – Bruno
    Oct 22, 2015 at 12:30
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    Lesser is clearly being used in comparison to himself: he is not a lesser man, the other men who hated him, they were the ones who were lesser (than he).
    – KRyan
    Oct 22, 2015 at 19:07
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    He was feared by other lesser pandas. They proceeded to shoot him and leave. Oct 22, 2015 at 19:33
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It is grammatically correct.

With the commas, the sentence means that men who were lesser than "He" were afraid of him.

Without the comma, it would mean that -

  1. There were men and lesser men (two categories).
  2. "He" belonged in the second category (he was one of the lesser men).
  3. The other lesser men (lesser men just like himself) were afraid of him.

Et voila.

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I would write "he was feared by other, lesser men." It is standard to use a comma to separate two adjectives pertaining to the same thing. I believe the second comma is unnecessary.

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    Hmm. If you were reading this aloud, would you not take a comma-like pause after lesser?
    – JHCL
    Oct 22, 2015 at 8:14
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    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apposition
    – Davor
    Oct 22, 2015 at 11:50
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    @Davor I don't think that's an apposition, "lesser" is certainly not an apposition pertaining to "other". Rather, it's about enumerating two adjectives pertaining to "men".
    – Bruno
    Oct 22, 2015 at 12:22
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    @JHCL: No, I wouldn't. The gap between "other" and "lesser" would be significantly longer than the gap between "lesser" and "men," at least for me.
    – Kevin
    Oct 22, 2015 at 14:29
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    You're right that the second comma is unnecessary in that both versions of the sentence are grammatically correct. However, the word lesser functions differently in the two sentences. With both commas, the word "lesser" is a parenthetical expression. With only one comma, the words "other, lesser" are two adjectives with the same grammatical function.
    – Kevin
    Oct 22, 2015 at 22:58
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In terms of the usual rules of grammar, the second comma is unnecessary, but that second comma is what makes this an elegant, powerful sentence. The second comma introduces weight to the word "lesser" by conveying how the word would be spoken. If an actor, speaking the words from a screenplay, said, "He was feared by other, lesser men," the line would come out flat. The actor reading "He was feared by other, lesser, men," would know to speak the word "lessor" with a lower voice, giving it more weight. Parentheses would achieve something like the same effect, but that second comma does it more powerfully.

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  • To my ear, the second comma sounds cumbersome and also deemphasizes the word "lesser". As noted in other answers, when there are two commas they are "parenthetical" commas, implying that we are talking about other men who (by the way) happened to be lesser. The fact that the other men are "lesser" is expressed more powerfully without the comma, I think.
    – David K
    Oct 22, 2015 at 19:17
  • Hey user. Welcome to the site. Can I suggest you add some linebreaks to your answer?
    – dwjohnston
    Oct 23, 2015 at 1:57
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Surely 'lesser' qualifies 'other' so the commas are acting as a parenthesis? Not all other men feared him, just those of the others who were lesser. The meaning is the same as: 'He was feared by other (lesser) men.'

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He was feared by {other, lesser,} men. Logic demands the commas, but did the author really want to say that all other men were lesser than he?

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  • Sorry, meant to say, He was feared by lesser men. Oct 22, 2015 at 16:00
  • If you put something wrong in your answer, you can edit the answer, rather than adding a comment. Comments are not supposed to be considered when voting, and may be deleted without notice.
    – DCShannon
    Oct 22, 2015 at 22:49
  • This isn't an answer.
    – dwjohnston
    Oct 22, 2015 at 22:49
  • @dwjohnston I think the first sentence is supposed to be an answer. It's indicating how the commas break the words from the rest of the sentence. It's not a good answer, but it's an answer. The second sentence should have been a comment, but he doesn't have enough rep to comment on other people's posts.
    – DCShannon
    Oct 22, 2015 at 22:52
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It is both a punctuation question (where and how do I use or place the commas?), and a grammar question, that deals with the meaning imparted from the principles and usage of the language. I see already laid out the manner in which the grammar and punctuation can be used to impart primarily one of two meanings. The choice that remains is what is intended by the statement; this seems largely to be a choice of whether the man in question, "He," is a lesser man -- which choice belongs to the author.

So it is to the author to choose and to impart its intention in writing the statement. Writers often have bounds or requirements in what they write, but in the creation of their work, they must express what they intend to express: please make a choice and then the pen moves on....

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    Welcome! You make some points, but this does not answer the question.
    – jejorda2
    Oct 22, 2015 at 18:20
  • @jejorda2 -- the answer too implicitely contained within my remarks, for which I beg your pardon. Herewith a choice must be made and in its conception the truth of the grammar shall be known. It shall be known by the author's intention: does he speak of or does he join the ranks of lesser men? Should he find himself to be of their number, then not a single nor a double comma should be used between the words of qualification, other and lesser. Thus, "other lesser men." would include him in their number. Oct 23, 2015 at 13:57

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