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Just got a writing job, part of which involves editing. There's a pretty specific type of sentence that's coming up a lot, and I'm not sure if a comma is required or not.

The sentences look like this:

Baxter played his role well in the first game and scored tons of points throughout the series.

My question is, is a comma required between game and and?

(The remainder of this post simply explains my attempts to figure it out myself, and why I can't.)

My first thought is that a comma is required, because the and separates two independent clauses. But I'm not actually sure if that's the case, since while Baxter is the clear subject of both verbs in the sentence, he's not actually named after the and, so I'm not sure if the rest of the sentence really does constitute a second independent clause. Furthermore, a simpler form of this sentence would be Baxter played and scored. I'm almost certain that this sentence doesn't require a comma, which makes things more confusing.

My only guess at a justification for the possible difference is that in the longer sentence, each of the verbs is attached to a different object (his role and tons of points). I'm kind of stuck.

Are there two independent clauses here? Is the comma required, and why? If there weren't two different objects in the sentence (or if one or both of them were missing or merely implied) would that change things?

  • 1
    First and foremost: When you say it to yourself do you hear a pause? Or, if you intentionally insert a pause does it sound better or worse? – Hot Licks Apr 12 '16 at 1:30
2

First of all, punctuation is a matter of style, and you will find the rules for that style in the style guide that your employer has adopted. Which guide governs your edits, and what does it say? Different guides have different rules, but the good ones will emphasize that fiats must be tempered by the recognition of exceptions and the role of the good judgment of authors and editors.

That said, on to your specific questions. Your sentence has one clause with a compound predicate, which (as you noted) is played well and scored tons. Yes, Baxter is the subject of both verbs, but that doesn't make

scored tons of points

a clause on its own. The fact that each verb governs a different object doesn't matter. You could have

Baxter played his role well in the first game and so continued throughout the series.

The second verb (continued) doesn't have a direct object at all, and you still have the comma dilemma.

I use the Chicago Manual of Style, which recommends that commas separate conjoined independent clauses and that they do not separate compound predicates. In fact, CMOS states that these rules are more than recommendations, calling them "obligatory", but CMOS notes at least one exception to the former -- short clauses. Their example that omits the "obligatory" comma is

Charles played the guitar and Betty sang.

That exception won't help you with your problem, though. You should probably consider inserting theforbidden comma when not doing so will create a so-called garden path, an invitation to the reader to choose the wrong parse. In this case would the absence of a comma lead the reader to initially consider that the conjunction was to join something other than the second predicate? For example, a compound direct object, along the lines of

Baxter played his role well in the first game and the second.

or an adverbial phrase as in

Baxter played his role well in the first game and in general.

And here's where your judgment as an editor comes in. My personal opinion is no: the reader immediately encounters a verb (scored) and not an article (and the second) or a preposition (and in general). But there's a simple way to avoid the agony, and that's to make a simple edit to create a compound clause to justify the comma:

Baxter played his role well in the first game, and he scored tons of points throughout the series.

  • I guess I was being overzealous in trying to figure out strict rules for this sort of thing, when really it's more of a stylistic choice. Thanks for the clarification! I have a pretty good sense for grammar but some of the more specific rules tend to escape me, and they're often difficult to put into a Google search. – Brendan Hickey Apr 12 '16 at 5:19
  • @BrendanHickey Be careful to distinguish between grammar (things like compound sentences and compound direct objects) and punctuation style, which is different from grammar. They both have some strict rules: for the former, you can't say John loves Mary and expect anyone to understand that Mary is doing the loving. And for the latter, almost everyone will demand a period after a complete declarative sentence. Zeal in either area will likely not serve you well. Adopt a manual of style for punctuation, and let your marks guide your reader in making the right grammatical choices. – deadrat Apr 12 '16 at 5:26
-1

The sentence:

Baxter played his role well in the first game and scored tons of points throughout the series.

is formed of two independent clauses. A clause is independent if it's meaningful and complete without the other (second) clause. Here is the breakdown.

1. Baxter played his role well in the first game.
2. Baxter scored tons of points throughout X game (the) series.

Both of these sentences are complete individually. By Complete, I mean that the sentences have the subject, helping verb V (or linking verb), main verb (not present with linking verb) and the object connected according to grammatical rules.

So, should we use the comma?

No, because the second clause does have the subject specified. It's implicit. (Source link)

Rule 3c. If the subject does not appear in front of the second verb, a comma is generally unnecessary.

Example: He thought quickly but still did not answer correctly.

Next: "If there weren't two different objects in the sentence (or if one or both of them were missing or merely implied) would that change things?"

There is no rule for comma concerning to two different objects.

  • But the clause 2 in your breakdown does not appear in the OP's sentence, which has "scored tons of points throughout the season." No Baxter and in fact, no (syntactic) subject. – deadrat Apr 12 '16 at 5:33
  • I've mentioned it already. Baxter in 2nd sentence is to show the implicit subject. – Mohit Kumar Jangid Apr 12 '16 at 8:00
  • I'm not sure what "it" refers to, but you seem to think that something called "the implicit subject" gives the OP's sentence two independent clauses, but the sentence has only one independent clause. You should probably correct your answer. By the way, I am not the downvoter. – deadrat Apr 12 '16 at 8:45
  • I've concluded "Independent clauses" because of the completeness of each of individual clauses and not because of the implicit subject notion as you thought. I would like to know, why do you think those are dependent? – Mohit Kumar Jangid Apr 14 '16 at 1:39
  • Your two sentences (labeled 1. and 2.) are certainly independent clauses, but they're not what the OP wrote. You've supplied a second syntactic subject by repeating Baxter in sentence 2. There's only one Baxter in the OP's sentence, and thus only one clause. – deadrat Apr 14 '16 at 2:57

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