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I know that punctuation can alter meaning. Could so. help me out with these examples:

He claims that roughly the years before the beginning of WWI are responsible for this development.

He claims that roughly, the years before the beginning of WWI...

He claims that, roughly, the years before the beginning of WWI...

Does the meaning change here with punctuation or is it just a matter of style?

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  • The first sentence doesn't sound idiomatic to me at all. The second sentence does. The pause gives the listener some context to determine what it is that the adverb is meant to modify.
    – Tushar Raj
    Jan 26, 2017 at 16:52
  • I'd drop 'roughly' and use 'He claims that the years before the beginning of WWI are when this practice became common.. Jan 26, 2017 at 17:52

2 Answers 2

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The example "He claims that, roughly, the years before the beginning of WWI..." is clearest. It means that the speaker is generalizing about the period of years. So roughly really means 'roughly speaking.' The claim is not rough, the years were not rough, only that those years are the years (roughly speaking, or approximately) claimed to be responsible. The word 'speaking' is understood.

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    Thank you very, very much. I had a feeling that this would be one of the potential meanings but was not able to break down the difference until you wrote down the 'long verson'. Thank you!
    – Sarah K
    Jan 27, 2017 at 14:45
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Sometimes it's just a matter of style, sometimes it's necessary.

In your statement examples, they are all a matter of style, I'd personally rather use: He claims that, roughly, the years before the beginning of WWI..

If you placed the comma in: "He claims, that roughly the years", it could possibly alter its meaning, but it would be necessary to add some other details, which isn't this question's case.

In some cases, the writter can use a comma in order to warn the readers that they should take a break while reading (.I.E.: slow down).

In other cases, the comma is precisely necessary, I can't think of any now, nevertheless, if you want to go further on this: The Punctuation Guide

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