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I've been learning about compound sentences recently while writing a web serial and came across this sentence in one of my chapters (for context, Ralphie is a superhero who has just been told the costume she made for herself looks like a dress, and she's not happy about it because she wanted it to look like a tunic):

'Confused, Ralphie looked down at her costume, and moaned.'

I don't want to omit the second comma, because the pause shows that Ralphie regards her costume for a moment before moaning, but I'm not sure that this is grammatically correct since from what I've learned (or think I've learned), you shouldn't put a comma before an 'and' unless it's the second independent clause of a compound sentence. 'And moaned' has the implied subject of Ralphie, but I don't think that makes it a full-fledged independent clause. So, there's my question: can a compound sentence have an implied second subject in the second clause?

  • You shouldn't omit the second comma. It conveys the very important fact that if you were reading aloud, there would be a pause at that point. I think spoken pauses override any rules about leaving out commas. – Peter Shor Jun 21 '17 at 12:06
  • The meaning is perfectly clear, but the comma looks weird. You wouldn’t write “Look up to the skies, and see”, would you? – Grimy Jun 21 '17 at 12:50
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    Commas don't usually convey a pause, but rather a particular intonation contour -- mid-lo-hi-mid -- that's used to separate constituents and mark their adjunction in this particular way. I agree that a pause is indicated in reading the sentence aloud, but unfortunately the comma contour doesn't provide that pause, and thus looks and sounds weird here. This is the fault of English orthography, which doesn't provide the right resources for indicating intonation (among many other features of language). – John Lawler Jun 21 '17 at 13:17
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    'Confused, Ralphie looked down at her costume ... and moaned.' conveys the pause. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 21 '17 at 13:50
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    I think an 'em dash' indicates a literal pause better then '...' which indicates ellipsis (which would have to be her unspoken thoughts). – AmI Jun 26 '17 at 22:15
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In colloquial English, it's very common for function words to be dropped from the start of an independent clause. That sometimes amounts to an implied subject:

My wife left me. She says I don't love her anymore. Says I'm married to my work.

but often not:

You coming with us?
Looking for something?
A guy walks into a bar with a chunk of asphalt under his arm. Bartender asks, "What can I get ya?" Guy says, "I'll have a beer, and one for the road."

(where we've elided a helping verb, a helping verb plus subject, and a definite article (twice), respectively).

But you're clearly interested in formal English, where the only implied subjects are the implied second-person subjects of most imperatives:

Your report was fine, but next time please give me a chance to review it before you send it to the Board.

So no, your sentence is not a compound sentence.

But that doesn't mean you can't use a comma. Rules like "Don't use a comma between the two parts of a compound predicate" should be thought of as defaults: Don't use a comma there, except when you have a specific reason to.

(To be honest, the comma in your sentence doesn't give me the sense that she's looking at her costume for a moment before moaning, but I'm just one reader. Others may feel differently.)

  • This is didactic and very useful for ELLers. – Lambie Jul 2 '18 at 20:34
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How about em dashes? Ref: Little Brown Handbook, 11th Ed. Pg. 470-471-2; Pearson Education, Inc. 2010

Dashes: Dashes give the information the greatest emphasis. Commas: Are less emphatic. Parentheses: Are the least emphatic, signaling the information is just worth a mention. (LBH P.471)

  • Use a dash to indicate shifts in tone or thought and to set off some sentence elements.

    ** The dash is mainly a mark of interruption: it signals an insertion or break (LBH 470). Form a dash with two hypens (--) or use the character called an "em dash" on your word processor. Do not add extra space around or between the hyphens or around the em dash.

  • Use a dash or dashes to indicate shifts and hesitations:

    Shift in tone: Larry--large and out of shape--was discharged from the Army.

    Unfinished thought: If frogs could fly--but why do they need to.

    Hesitation in dialog: "I was overwhelmed by your offer to pay for my house--" He shuddered, and fell to the floor.

You can use a dash or dashes to emphasis nonessential elements (P.471) - Dashes may be used in place of commas or parentheses to set off and emphasize nonessential elements.

Confused, Ralphie looked down at her costume--and moaned.

**Be sure to use a pair of dashes when the element interrupts a main clause.

Don't use the em dash when commas,semicolons, and periods are more appropriate, and don't use too many dashes (P.472). It creates a jumpy, or breathy quality in writing if used too much in a sentence, paragraph, or throughout a document.

Cheers!

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