I'm wondering if I should use a comma after "table" in this sentence that I've written. Could you please tell me if a comma is needed?

Janet entered the room to find Bob at the table typing on his laptop.

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  • 2
    Yes, because the phrase typing on his laptop modifies Bob and not table. – Gary's Student Nov 5 '17 at 0:09

Typing on his laptop is a (non-simple, non-attributive) participial phrase, which is usually separated from the rest of its clause by means of commas. I don't believe this is 100% compulsory, but it is surely better. Whenever a participial phrase comes after the noun it modifies, or when it has its own arguments, it is normally no longer simple and attributive, but e.g. predicative.

I think the reason why this is generally done is that appositives can easily lead to a 'misparsing' of the sentence. The following may seem rather contrived, but perhaps the table typing is a kind of typing that involves tables, and she found that John was busy at this (table-kind-of) typing. Stop this table-typing, John: you should do your typing at your desk. Now, immediately afterwards, the reader will realise that this is not possible, but he might have to go back one or two words to reread part of the sentence, which is inconvenient. That kind of very mild, temporary, and local ambiguity is often why we use punctuation.


My problem in this sentence is not with the presence or absence of a comma, but rather with a table that can type.

You can avoid any question about commas by recasting the sentence.

"Janet entered the room and found Bob typing [on his laptop [at the table]]."

Is what Bob is typing relevant? Is whether the laptop rests on a desk or a table relevant?

  • What if being at the table was a more significant bit of info than his typing? – Hot Licks Nov 5 '17 at 0:15
  • @HotLicks Then I'd recommend either "found him at the table" or "found him typing at the table" depending on whether or not his typing was relevant. – Jeff Morrow Nov 5 '17 at 0:21
  • Yes, this reconstruction also sounds better. Thank you. – user234028 Nov 5 '17 at 0:21
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    @skywardhope: I actually feel that your original sentence was perfectly fine; it conveys a slightly different nuance than the (equally fine) construction by Jeff. – Cerberus Nov 5 '17 at 0:29
  • Of course, a lot depends on whether you're writing a description for a police report or writing a story. The original (with comma) was definitely better for the story case. – Hot Licks Nov 5 '17 at 0:33