I am correcting a journal paper about mathematics.

Is this a correct and complete sentence:

The latter is a leaf and the former a branch.

(I did not provide the context of the sentence, since I don't think it is necessary for the grammar. My co-author had a comma before the word "and", which is definitely wrong in my opinion. I goggled "conjunctive clause" but did not find a helpful answer. Btw, my mother tang is German.)

Btw, I was looking for an explanation such as given by G.L. "The gapping rule".

  • 2
    The sentence is complete. Whether it is correct depends on what's found in the context. After all, the 'latter' could be a branch and the 'former' a tree, with nary a leaf in sight (rather difficult with a mathematical tree, I'd admit, but the context could well be referencing a non-mathematical tree :) ). If the question is about the comma before 'and', I think it's a stylistic choice - the comma (or its lack) doesn't affect the correctness of the sentence. – Lawrence Aug 1 '16 at 13:42
  • It's an ordinary gapping construction. (The gapping rule deletes repeated constituents in a second conjunct, including the verb, here "is", leaving behind two constituents only one of which is outside the verb phrase.) I'd use a comma, since two sentences have been conjoined. – Greg Lee Aug 1 '16 at 14:48
  • @GregLee Why would you a comma? Unfortunately, I do commas by technical rules. I thought without a verb in the latter part of the sentence it is technical not a independent clause and therefore the comma is not advised. – mrsteve Aug 1 '16 at 20:33
  • @mrsteve, my reasoning about the comma is that (1) a comma is used when "and" connects a following sentence, (2) "and" connects constituents of the same category, (3) what precedes "and" in the example is evidently a sentence, and (4) therefore what follows "and" must also be a sentence. (On the other hand, there has been discussion of whether a sentence loses its sentential status when it loses its verb. McCawley discusses the matter in his book The Syntactic Phenomena of English.) – Greg Lee Aug 1 '16 at 21:25
  • @mrsteve, I would say that there is an implicit "is" in the second half of the sentence. – dangph Aug 2 '16 at 1:09

The latter is a leaf and the former a branch. Looks fine enough. Why not speak in chronological order and say "The former is a branch and the latter a leaf."

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