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I'm reading a book and I came upon this sentence like this:

"We looked at the city, and found that beneath every surface, a whole world of adventure was waiting for us."

I'm curious about three things:

  • What's the grammatical name for "beneath every surface" in this sentence?
  • What are the comma rules associated with it?
  • On another note, am I correct that the first comma is misplaced because it separates "we" and "found"?

Thanks for reading.

  • Which book are you quoting? Is it available online? I can't find the text you cite. – AmE speaker Nov 3 '17 at 13:40
  • Hey @Clare, it's not a direct quote. (I shortened it a fair bit.) – Rogare Nov 3 '17 at 23:30
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We looked at the city, and found that beneath every surface, a whole world of adventure was waiting for us.

Beneath every surface is a PP (preposition phrase) functioning as a 'preposed locative adjunct'. Preposing involves putting an element - in this case the PP - before the subject of the clause when its normal position would be after the verb.

The 'basic' non-preposed version would be: We looked at the city and found that a whole world of adventure was waiting for us beneath every surface.

The first comma in your example isn't necessary and the second one is optional.

  • Thanks for the answer! To clarify, would you say the first comma is wrong or just not necessary? – Rogare Nov 3 '17 at 23:38
  • It's not necessary, since the subject of the first clause is also the subject of the second clause, i.e. "we" is subject of the two verbs "looked" and "found". – BillJ Nov 4 '17 at 7:11
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As helpfully pointed out by Grammarly, a comma before and should only be used if it's linking two independent clauses. The clauses here are

We looked at the city

,

found that beneath every surface

and

a whole world of adventure was waiting for us.

You're quite right that the first comma is misplaced, but it's because "found that beneath every surface" is not an independent clause, not because it's splitting up the "we" and the "found". If it had been "We looked at the city, and we found that..." the comma would have been fine.

As for your question about the grammatical name for "beneath every surface" I'm not sure there is a specific term for it. It's just a clause with an adverb, beneath, modifying the noun phrase every surface. The context should tell the reader that this is referring to every surface present in the city "we" looked at, as this was the last object mentioned in the sentence.

I would say (though this is mainly opinion without anything to back it up so it may not really belong here) that even the second comma is optional. The sentence would be just fine as

We looked at the city and found that beneath every surface a whole world of adventure was waiting for us.

This does run the risk of becoming a run-on sentence though, and the comma does help to separate things in a way that's easier to parse.

  • Can I ask the person who downvoted what was wrong with this answer? – John Clifford Nov 3 '17 at 13:56
  • I marked you down because most of your answer was wrong! – BillJ Nov 3 '17 at 15:43
  • @BillJ, could you be specific? I'm curious too. – Rodney Atkins Nov 3 '17 at 15:54
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    Also, isn't "beneath the surface" a prepositional phrase? Wiktionary seems to think so: en.wiktionary.org/wiki/beneath_the_surface – Rodney Atkins Nov 3 '17 at 15:56
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    You omitted to mention the fact that the sentence contained the preposed element "beneath every surface". And you said that "beneath every surface" was a clause, which it isn't -- it's a preposition phrase headed by "beneath", which is a preposition not an adverb, nor a modifier of "every surface". "Every surface" is a noun phrase as complement of "beneath". See what I mean? (copy to @RodneyAtkins). Btw, John. no offence meant!) – BillJ Nov 3 '17 at 15:56

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