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The second part of my argument is that, as an English naval captain, Avery has a duty to focus solely on defeating the enemies of the King. OR The second part of my argument is that as an English naval captain, Avery has a duty to focus solely on defeating the enemies of the King.

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    I think that as starts a nonresrictive clause, but I believe it is misplaced. I would rework your sentence as such: The second part of my argument is that Avery, as an English naval captain, has a duty to focus solely on defeating the enemies of the King. – JLG Nov 27 '15 at 22:38
  • The comma belongs, based on the general rule that a "parenthetical" clause should be set apart with commas. (Nothing wrong with the order, BTW.) – Hot Licks Nov 28 '15 at 0:46
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Yes, the comma belongs there. The "as an English naval captain" could be left out and the sentence make perfect sense. It therefore should be marked off with commas, as you would naturally pause at those two points in speaking as well.

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The ordinary word order for this subordinate clause is: 

that Avery has a duty as an English naval captain to focus solely on defeating the enemies of the King 

The prepositional phrase "as an English naval captain" in this position could modify either the object "duty" or the verb "has".  If we take it to modify the verb, then the distinction between restrictive and non-restrictive does not apply.  On the other hand, if it does modify the verb, then its non-canonical placement exhibits a large degree of flexibility: 

  • that, as an English naval captain, Avery has a duty to focus solely on defeating the enemies of the King 
  • that Avery, as an English naval captain, has a duty to focus solely on defeating the enemies of the King 
  • that Avery has, as an English naval captain, a duty to focus solely on defeating the enemies of the King 
  • . . .

In these cases, we surround the entire phrase with commas.  There is one obvious case when the leading comma would be omitted -- when the phrase is found at the beginning of a sentence: 

  • As an English naval captain, Avery has a duty to focus solely on defeating the enemies of the King.

The purpose of the commas is to show where the phrase which is placed outside its canonical location -- effectively an interruption -- begins and ends.

In your model sentence, the phrase in question is at or near the beginning of its clause, but it is definitely well within its sentence.  You want to use both commas. 

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  • One can note that any of those word orders (especially the first) is harder to read and parse without the commas. – Hot Licks Nov 28 '15 at 0:50
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The short answer is yes to both your questions.

The preposition phrase as an English naval captain is a supplementary adjunct. Supplements don’t modify anything: they are loosely attached elements providing useful but non-essential information. As such, they are omissible with no loss of core meaning to the sentence as a whole. The commas serve to mark off the PP as supplementary; in speech supplements are marked off with what is perceived as a slight pause. By virtue of not being integrated into clause structure, supplements like this are semantically non-restrictive.

Note that the NP Avery is of course the ‘anchor’ for the PP, but that does NOT mean that the PP is modifying Avery or anything else. Only integrated adjuncts can do that, and this is of the supplementary kind.

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