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I have read a lot on proper punctuation: grammar.ccc.comnet.edu grammarbook.com And some more... Now I remember my English teacher warning me that in English, you should use a lot less commas then in Hungarian (my mother tongue). The English writers rarely use commas, but they use a lot shorter sentences too - she would say.

So, I've been banging my head against the wall over this sentence:

It is like the logic of the Rubic's cube where the sides consist of different colours and each and every small square is part of a system that should be evaluated as a whole.

I'd be inclined to add commas like this:

It is like the logic of the Rubic's cube, where the sides consist of different colours, and each and every small square is part of a system that should be evaluated as a whole.

I'm pretty sure about the first one, though it doesn't really fit any of the 11 or 16 or XYZ number of rules on the sites I have checked. (Not elements in a series, not independent clauses, not introductory element, not parent element, not a list of adjectives. They do not fit, like I have said, any of the mentioned cases in the sites I have checked.

Still, without a comma, I find it a bit too long and maybe even confusing.

So, three questions:

  • In this sentence, should I use commas? Where?
  • Is there a general rule, or a good site I should turn to for reference?
  • If in doubt, do I go for better readability with probably unnecessary commas, or should I just do it without commas and sacrifice readability?

Thanks! Hope this is not totally off-topic here.

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    Your commas are exactly where most people would place them and are 100% correct. As to the first one, the relevant rule is this: non-restricting relative clauses generally require a comma (perhaps unless they are extremely short or in informal English). The second comma is motivated by the rule that two full (each with a subject and main verb) clauses separated by a paratactic/parallel conjunction should normally have a comma before the conjunction—again, perhaps unless the clauses are very short or the language informal. – Cerberus May 16 '16 at 16:48
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    1) Put a comma where there would naturally be a pause in speech. 2) When in doubt, leave it out. The rest is pedantry. – Hot Licks May 18 '16 at 19:21
  • @HotLicks Nice! :) – vacip May 18 '16 at 20:15
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Commas are evil if you got them to rules. :)

The overall 'master rule' is that comma represent short pauses in speech, designed to split up ideas and help communicate.

You are right that your version of the sentence is easier to read; that is justification enough. I would punctuate it the same way. Particularly, the breaks give you moments to pause and consider what has been said. They aid communication by adding a structure to the words.

Given the quality of the writing in your question, I'd suggest you might want to take guidance from well-edited prose: read books and get an intuition about how it's actually done. No native English speaker writes by consulting a mental or physical rulebook on commas.

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    Thank you! What I've been hearing and reading a lot, is that a comma indicates a short pause in speech, but a short pause in speech doesn't necessary indicate the necessity of a comma. I'll leave the question open for an hour, then mark as answered. Thanks! – vacip May 16 '16 at 16:39
  • That works. Your quote seems right. If you see your writing as a script, commas are 'stage directions'. :) – Steve Cooper May 16 '16 at 16:46
  • @vacip: That is generally correct, but by no means always. Unfortunately there are almost zero comma rules that are always true. – Cerberus May 16 '16 at 16:51
  • @Cerberus that's true. I do think you only need to be as good as well-edited novels or magazine articles to be beyond correction, though. – Steve Cooper May 16 '16 at 17:01
  • @SteveCooper: Sure, and opinions differ on many rules. But I don't think any rule is applied with 100% consistency in a well edited novel, nor should it be. There are always valid exceptions. – Cerberus May 16 '16 at 18:18
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Very amusing that you punctuated the sentence rightly, while your teacher has made two mistakes.

If you are confused as to where to use commas, here is a summary:

1. To separate items, including adjectives that can be reversed in order (sunny, clean beach = clean, sunny beach; while nice little beach ≠ little nice beach) in a list; "I felt devastated, furious about the fact that my life, my job and my financial position were all left rotting"

2. To set off introductory prepositional phrases, i.e., anything that is placed at the beginning of the sentence but can still make sense at its end; "In my country, the weather is usually bad" (the weather is usually bad in my country). Note: one-word phrases may be omitted, especially in compound sentences ("Today I went home" or "I played some football, and then I played some tennis)

3. To set off adjuncts, i.e. something that, upon its removal, will still make sense - these can be clarification (my friend, John, will come here tonight) or extra information (this rule is right, actually); note that any adverbs that do not modify any verb (basically, if you make a pause between saying the verb and the adverb in speech - but do not take this rule for granted - it is just there to help you navigate between adjuncts and a non-adjunctive adverbs) adjuncts ("The water runs out [short pause], eventually", but "The water eventually runs out)

4. To separate two independent clauses or a dependent clause from an independent clause (but not the opposite way round); "I played football, and he played basketball" or "When I came back, I drank some water, but "I drank some water when I came home". Note: a main clause can also be a prepositional phrase or a subordinate clause; if it is a subordinate clause, e.g. "I wanted to play football, but I didn't, because the weather was bad", treat it as a subordinate clause.

If you use all of the following 4 points, you will be fine. There are more rules, indeed, but these four cover the vast majority of cases where you should use a comma.

  • Thanks you, very nice summary of the important rules! :) – vacip May 18 '16 at 20:15
  • Thank you very much, too:) I know this is a bit extra, but in English, we either say, "thanks, you" or, much more frequently, "thank you" - "thanks you" would be grammatically incorrect. – Max May 18 '16 at 21:03
  • That was a typo :) I guess I wrote "Thanks, blah-blah", than went back to change it to a bit more polite/formal "Thank you, blah-blah", but forgot about the "s". :) – vacip May 19 '16 at 8:09
  • Oh, I see now :) – Max May 19 '16 at 16:43

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