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The Wikipedia article for comma says

In general, the comma shows that the words immediately before the comma are less closely or exclusively linked grammatically to those immediately after the comma than they might be otherwise.

and then lists different uses. Is it OK to use a comma whenever it would drive home the correct reading?

Here are some examples (forgive me for their strangeness):

  1. The player to the right of the dealer turns up a card, and frowns.

  2. He'd already clumsily thumbed a plastic slip onto a thick drop of glycerol, so as to crush the knot of a spider.

  3. By the succulent he planted and replanted to pass the time, is a china bull.

While I don't think the sentences are more ambiguous without their commas, and it cursorily seems that they don't meet the conditions listed in the Wikipedia article (e.g. in each the text following the comma is not an independent clause), I think it makes them easier to read.

  • @user3293056 - a quick search of the site ("comma") will show you that there is an incredible amount of information on commas already here, and that comma usage falls more under style. Some writers don't use commas where others do. Opinion and comprehensibility do. Beyond that, this is primarily opinion based. – anongoodnurse Jan 2 '16 at 4:01
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    What is the knot of a spider? Is "By the succulent he planted" another way of saying, "By Jove!" ... or what? I'm at a loss here. – Ricky Jan 2 '16 at 4:01
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    @Ricky what relevance is this? a dead spider's body looks and feels like a hard knot when you press it under a microscope slip. and i was just trying to place the object in a context [it's meant literally]. – user3293056 Jan 2 '16 at 4:04
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    You need to identify the source of those sentences. If you wrote them yourself, please clearly state so in your question. Your question is off-topic, then. Proofreading questions ("Is this right?", "Are there any mistakes?") or Writing advice (see Writers.SE instead) or critique requests are off-topic unless a specific source of concern in the text is clearly identified. – user140086 Jan 2 '16 at 4:58
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    @RoaringFish I find the sentences comprehensible, but even if you don't, I see no reason to vote to close the question. As Lewis Carroll would teach us, we can sometimes punctuate nonsense. – deadrat Jan 2 '16 at 8:05
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It may help to recognize two things -- 1) punctuation is not a matter of grammar; it's a matter of style and 2) the purpose of punctuation is to help readers parse a linear string of text into a parse tree. With respect to point number 1, there is no "right" or "wrong", just "helpful" or "unhelpful" in pursuit of point number 2. To the end of point number 2, various organizations academic, journalistic, and otherwise have developed manuals of style with lists of rules. All good manuals will acknowledge that it's impossible to state definitively in all situations whether a rule applies, that exceptions will necessarily arise, and that at times a writer's judgement and discretion may trump any rule.

One of the longer subsections of these manuals deals with the comma, which mark is tasked with making many and varied classifications. Sometimes conflicting demands make it difficult to know where or if to place a comma. I'm afraid that your Wikipedia quote is unhelpful as a "general" rule. You can tell because the statement is followed immediately by a description of the comma's role in lists. So if Ricky says,

I'm dumb, obtuse, ignorant, and French

commas separate the adjectives, with some people leaving out the last, but if he'd said

I'm dumb and obtuse

no one would advocate placing a comma after dumb. Does the strength of the "grammatical linkage" between the two adjectives change from one version to the next?

Let's examine your sentences

  1. The player to the right of the dealer turns up a card, and frowns.

One job of the comma is to warns the reader that one independent clause is ending and another is beginning. So generally, compound grammatical objects that don't rise to the level of clauses, like compound predicates are not separated by commas. But another job of the comma is to warn the reader away from a wrong parse. The linguist Steven Pinker calls these "garden paths" because they lead the reader to the wrong grammatical decision. Here, you don't want your reader to see the and and ready himself for

1a. The player to the right of the dealer turns up a card and the volume.

But you also don't want the reader to expect

1b. The player to the right of the dealer turns up a card, and frowns appear on the faces of the others.

You can't use one comma to give both warnings. So it's your call until your editor overrules you.

How about

  1. He'd already clumsily thumbed a plastic slip onto a thick drop of glycerol, so as to crush the knot of a spider.

I'll have to say that this sentence made the least sense to me until your explanation, but it still didn't matter. Another rule of the comma is to separate a non-restrictive clause. Like all these rules, they exist to guide parsing, which is to say that they can't help with the semantics. Did you mean that the crushing is the defining characteristic of the drop of glycerol? If so, then no comma, the infinitive is restrictive. Did you mean, "Oh, by the way the spider got crushed"? If so, then the infinitive is nonrestrictive, merely informative, and no comma is appropriate.

On to your last example

  1. By the succulent he planted and replanted to pass the time, is a china bull.

Commas generally set off introductory adverbial phrases and introductory participial phrases that don't immediately precede the verb. But you've designed a sentence to defeat both rules. In fact, although "planted and replanted" may look participial to a reader who, having long forgotten the introductory preposition by, struggles to the is, the compound predicate actually belongs to a reduced relative clause modifying succulent:

3a. ... succulent [that] he planted and replanted to pass the time....

Commas cannot avail you or your reader here, and a rephrase is the best thing you can do for your prose and the kindest thing you can do for your reader:

There is a china bull placed by the succulent he planted and replanted to pass the time.

By the way, the manual I use is the Chicago Manual of Style, so the rules I cite are the ones you'll find therein.

  • so 3 should be rephrased due to the wait between "by... is a"? btw, the ending of 2 is to explain ("so as to...") why the plastic slip was so used. i was just trying to break up these long (struggling) sentences at any convenient place – user3293056 Jan 2 '16 at 9:15
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    "By the succulent" goes with the china bull, but your reader is down a couple of parse levels -- "(re)planted, to pass" -- when he gets to the figurine and has to remember that it's beside something. It's tough going. – deadrat Jan 2 '16 at 9:24
  • "to separate a non-restrictive clause.... 'Oh, by the way the spider got crushed'? If so, then the infinitive is nonrestrictive, merely informative, and no comma is appropriate". may i please ask why the comma is inappropriate in that instance ? – user3293056 Jan 2 '16 at 9:47
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The player to the right of the dealer turns up a card, and frowns.

This is somewhat permissible, yet awkward and kind of pretentious.

He'd already clumsily thumbed a plastic slip onto a thick drop of glycerol, so as to crush the knot of a spider.

Plain wrong.

By the succulent he planted and replanted to pass the time, is a china bull.

Also wrong. That said, you might want to rethink "by" and "is".

  • i decided to downvote cos while you did answer the question, your comments need to be explained - are you even talking about grammar? – user3293056 Jan 2 '16 at 4:16
  • I am going to add my two cents here, since @Ricky has the same criticisms I would. No, you cannot add commas in those places. It is not because there is a rule against such things, but because you betray conventions that make things easier to read and comprehend in the name of making them easier to read! For example, "It is not because, there is a rule against such things, but because you betray conventions that make things easier to read, and comprehend, in the name of making them easier to read!" – stevesliva Jan 2 '16 at 4:42
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    @stevesliva what about something like "By the succulent he planted and replanted, to pass the time, is a china bull". maybe that's what i was kinda aiming for – user3293056 Jan 2 '16 at 5:11

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