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So I'm writing a narrative for LA class, and there's a spot in my introduction that, in my opinion, should have a comma, but returns a grammar error by MS Word whenever I try it - hence why I am a little confused as to what to put there. When I put a semicolon, it does not return an error, but the semicolon does not separate two distinct clauses, so it's incorrect as far as I can tell. Here's the relevant part of my introduction (italicised):

In an alternate life, Mark would’ve lived a life considered by many to be somewhat normal. He could’ve been president of his country, the United States of America. He could’ve been a millionaire, a businessman, a scholar, a politician, a doctor, a scientist, anything… but here he was<,> an American infantry soldier of 1916, stuck in a dirty, bloody hole.

Note: the incorrect punctuation is the <,> (the symbols are only there to show where the comma is), and the two parts of the sentence that need separation are emboldened.

Thank you for your help.

  • Looks OK to me. Maybe your instincts are better than Word's. – GEdgar Apr 27 '17 at 20:38
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    Ignore it. Word's grammar checker is equipped with the 'rules' of a half-illiterate high school English teacher, but lacks the knowledge of the language which might let it know when the rules are relevant. – StoneyB Apr 27 '17 at 20:39
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    Forget about Word's grammar -- unless you need a laugh. I used to write daily articles for a website and would always copy-and-paste them into a word file before putting them online just to check for obvious typos and misspellings. I swore I was going to one day let Word make all the grammar corrections it wanted and make a book out the results. – Roger Sinasohn Apr 27 '17 at 20:43
  • A grammar error in word is not synonymous with a grammar error =) – Gary Apr 28 '17 at 2:06
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Word is not capable of understanding the meaning of what you are writing. It "thinks" that you are trying to create this structure:

here he was an American infantry soldier of 1916

While that is grammatically correct, it has a different meaning to what you were intending:

here he was, an American infantry soldier of 1916, ...

The phase surrounded by the commas here is parenthetical. You could chop it out, and the sentence would still make sense. It is entirely correct to surround parenthetical elements with commas.

You can safely ignore Word's advice here. Personally, I turn off the grammar checking in Options because I find it so intrusive and not so helpful in general.

(As a side note, could've and would've here look too informal to me. I would spell them out: could have, would have. Just my opinion.)

  • +1 for your assessment of Word's grammar chops, though you were much nicer about it than I would have been. – docwebhead Jan 10 '18 at 16:38
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Word is not almighty. That comma should be there. However, I would suggest you change your formulation to:

[...] a businessman, a scholar, a politician, a doctor, a scientist, or so many other things. But he was an American infantry soldier [of 1916], and he was a stuck in a dirty, bloody hole.

Why? Because your list of alternative professions is rather long, and very specific. That's good, but the "anything..." is like having a fancy dinner and refusing the fanciest dessert to have a Snickers instead.

PS: The brackets around "of 1916" mean that it's strange to have that piece of information exactly there. The formulation sounds like he could have chosen to be something else, but he chose to be a soldier. However, he couldn't have chosen the time to be a soldier. We live in the time we are.

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