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The following sentences come from the Wikipedia page on Martin Luther:

Luther wrote negatively about the Jews throughout his career. Though Luther rarely encountered Jews during his life, his attitudes reflected a theological and cultural tradition which saw Jews as a rejected people guilty of the murder of Christ, and he lived in a locality which had expelled Jews some ninety years earlier.

I have a question about the punctuation of this particular part: "Jews as a rejected people guilty of the murder of Christ". I was expecting a comma after 'rejected people'. Am I right?

The presence or absence of comma may not make much difference for conveying the meaning. However, I wanted to know what would be the right punctuation according to English grammar.

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  • When in doubt leave it out.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented May 27, 2017 at 11:59
  • I see this post as a trivial question[,] likely to be closed as opinion-based. Decide for yourself if you want a comma there. Commented May 27, 2017 at 12:05
  • @FumbleFingers The prescence or absence of comma may not make much difference while conveying the meaning. However, I wanted to know what would be the right punctuation, according to English grammar. Commented May 27, 2017 at 12:15
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    Orthography (including comma usage) is just a crude attempt to record real (spoken) language (real "grammar" is about describing how people actually speak, rather than dictating how people should write. If you think you would include a pause when speaking your cited text, write it with a comma; if not, don't. Stylistically, I personally would not pause there if I knew I was going to continue with the final (also optional) clause ...and he lived in a locality [blah blah]. Though I might, if I was going to stress that And as introducing a final emphatic sentence. Commented May 27, 2017 at 12:27
  • I've got to interpret 'a rejected people' here as 'a people rejected by God', or 'saw' makes little sense (rejected by Samoans?) This means that 'guilty of the murder of Christ' is an explanation of God's rejection of them. No comma, or (better) dashes, would be appropriate. Commented May 29, 2017 at 23:18

2 Answers 2

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His attitudes reflected a tradition which saw Jews as a rejected people guilty of the murder of Christ.

This is a more compact version of

His attitudes reflected a tradition which saw Jews as a rejected people who were guilty of the murder of Christ.

Both are fine without a comma. There's nothing here that would trigger a rule requiring a comma, and it's not such a complex phrase that one would get tired or confused without one.

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According to OWL by Purdue, modifiers need to be close to the subject. The phrase 'guilty of murdering...' seems to modify Jews, so it appears that a comma is not needed before the phrase.

If there was a comma before 'guilty...', it would mean that people who are treated Jews as rejected people are guilty of murder, which means a completely different thing.

This is an example of dangling modifier. https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/597/1/

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    I think you're interpreting "non-essential" incorrectly here. I think the question for determining whether you need a comma is whether they saw Jews as a rejected people, who just happened to be guilty of the murder of Christ (non-essential), or whether the fact that they thought them guilty of the murder of Christ is an essential component of the way they looked at the Jews. So I don't think you actually need a comma. It's certainly grammatical if you include one, although maybe it changes the meaning slightly. Commented May 27, 2017 at 15:48
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    This is kind of like the sentence "The tall man in the hat is my uncle." If you get rid of the phrase "in the hat", the sentence still makes sense, so it might seem as though the phrase were non-essential. But if there's more than one tall man present, you shouldn't put commas around "in the hat" because the phrase is restrictive. Commented May 27, 2017 at 15:48
  • Yes, makes sense totally🤘🏻 Commented May 27, 2017 at 16:14
  • Hey, I changed my answer. Please check and give your feedback. Commented May 28, 2017 at 2:11
  • @Peter Shor: I suppose you might set off in the hat with pauses, but normally you'd just stress tall to indicate there's a "disambiguating essential clause" coming next - that's to say, if the context requires both attributes (tall & hat-wearing) for disambiguation. In your specific example, we're not concerned that there might be tall hat-wearing women around, since they can't be uncles (transgender contexts excepted! :) Commented May 28, 2017 at 14:41

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