1

I know it is not correct to put a comma before "and" if the subject is the same but I feel like I should do so if "and" appears earlier in the sentence like this:

He was convicted of murder and human trafficking, and jailed.

or

She set aside the condom and lubricant, and turned her face away.

Should I keep the comma or drop it? I know I could reword it to use two separate sentences and avoid the issue altogether, but this happens to me a lot and I want to face the issue head-on.

1

What you have are two examples of so-called garden paths, sentences that are arranged to mislead your reader into making the wrong parse. In the first sentence, your reader might expect a third crime instead of a consequence:

He was convicted of murder and human trafficking and driving on an expired license.

In the second sentence, your reader might expect a third item to set aside instead of an action:

She set aside the condom and lubricant and the plastic sex toy.

The general rule is that a comma separates two independent clauses, not two verb phrases in a compound predicate, so you wouldn't write

convicted of murder, and jailed

or

She set aside her feelings, and turned her face away.

But a good manual of style will allow exceptions which are necessary in the opinion of a careful author. As the Chicago Manual of Style notes

Punctuation should be governed by its function, which is to make the author's meaning clear, to promote ease of reading, and in varying degrees to contribute to the author's style.

  • Would the following be acceptable: 1. "He was convicted and jailed of murder and human trafficking." 2. "She turned her face away and set aside the condom and lubricant." Just wondering whether these are "poor" sentences because and is repeated twice. – Mari-Lou A May 12 '16 at 7:40
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    1. is not OK because jail does not license of. You can say He was convicted of and jailed for murder. 2. means something different: turning before setting aside. You original has setting aside first. I think you can prevent a garden path for 1. with He was convicted of murder and human trafficking and then jailed for his crimes. The adverb presages the verb. (In the US, imprisoned would be preferred to jailed.) – deadrat May 12 '16 at 7:49
  • Aah, jailed for of course. How stupid of me not to have realized that. No. 2. has changed the sequence of actions, but otherwise it would be acceptable. Am I correct? – Mari-Lou A May 12 '16 at 7:56
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    @Mari-LouA Yes, I think the rephrased 2. is fine, at least grammatically. And I don't think the repetition of and makes the sentences poor. For me, the first and in the rephrased 2. connects two crimes, and the second and emphasizes the connection between crime and punishment. But that's just a style consideration. De gustibus and all that. By the way, thanks for your help in migrating 322857. – deadrat May 12 '16 at 8:12

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