“Joe,” I called, the moment I could open my mouth. “An army. There’s an army out there."

My beta reader is unsure about the comma after 'I called'. I think it should be included because 'I called the moment...' could throw the reader, if only for a second. However, he found the comma very jarring.

Should it be included or not?

Note: I looked at the help center, and I believe this question is on topic, as it is a specific question about a particular point in my text, as mentioned under 'How can I ask about checking my text?' However, if it's still off topic, just let me know.

  • 1
    I agree with the reader, do not include. – GEdgar Apr 25 '17 at 17:39
  • 2
    "I'm not sure," he said, not knowing enough about grammar to speak with confidence. – McCaverty Apr 25 '17 at 20:20
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    One could argue that you are right about the need to avoid a garden-path sentence. Punctuation is there to help parse correctly, in the first instance. “Joe,” I called as soon as I could." is probably better without the comma, but with a temporal expression headed by 'the moment', a comma is at least a valid option. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 25 '17 at 20:50

It should not be included.

If the structure were flipped, it would make sense:

The moment I could open my mouth, I called.

That, however, does not really work for denoting dialogue:

"Joe," The moment I could open my mouth, I called.

May I suggest altering the phrase?

"Joe," I called as soon as I could open my mouth.

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