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Every once in a while, I will come across a type of sentence construction in which a nested dependent clause is punctuated with a comma at the beginning but not at the end of the clause. For example:

David Davis, when asked by a House of Commons committee to explain why he had failed to provide anything adequately resembling the Brexit impact assessments that had been demanded by parliament fell back on an extraordinarily devious defence. (The Guardian)

My gut feeling tells me that, because it is a nested dependent clause, it should have been

David Davis, when asked by a House of Commons committee to explain why he had failed to provide anything adequately resembling the Brexit impact assessments that had been demanded by parliament, fell back on an extraordinarily devious defence.

Am I correct? If not, could anyone shed some light on this matter?

  • The comma is certainly a big improvement. I was hoping that a simplifying split into more than one sentence was available, but I don't think there is. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 7 '17 at 20:22
  • @EdwinAshworth Is the second comma grammatically necessary, or is it just a matter of style, readability etc.? From what I had learnt in school, the second comma is necessary; the implication is that whenever I came across such a sentence in a text, I couldn't help being briefly distracted and thought, "Hmm, shouldn't there be a comma? But it could be my ignorance; perhaps it is some kind of construction that I have not learnt." – PYK Dec 7 '17 at 22:01
  • Necessary punctuation and correct grammar are usually seen as disjoint on ELU. A medial parenthetical is used, which requires two commas, brackets or dashes (or occasionally zero punctuation). I'd certainly knock off a mark for poor punctuation in the first version. But I'd possibly knock off a mark for unwieldiness in both cases. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 8 '17 at 22:12
  • @EdwinAshworth Thank you for the clarification. I brought this up mainly because the punctuation error disrupts my reading flow, independent of the length of the sentence. The internal voice speaking the words as I read them will naturally make a brief pause when a comma or its equivalent is to be expected. When the comma is not visually present, a sensory conflict or mismatch occurs - hence the disruption. The converse is also true; flow disruptions occur when a comma appears where it should not. Should these kind of questions be asked on ELL instead? – PYK Dec 9 '17 at 21:03
  • I added 'Necessary punctuation and correct grammar are usually seen as disjoint on ELU.' in response to your 'Is the second comma grammatically necessary?' (ie wrong punctuation and incorrect grammar are here considered as being different). Parentheticals, including appropriate punctuation, have certainly been covered on ELU before (this is therefore probably a duplicate, inappropriate on either ELU or ELL). – Edwin Ashworth Dec 10 '17 at 0:46
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Yes, both commas are needed. Each comma represents one end of a parenthetical phrase -- they could be replaced by '(' and ')'.

The only way to use a single comma would be to move the parenthetical phrase (also called an adverbial phrase or dependent clause) to the beginning or end of the sentence.

  • They can't be replaced by "and"; otherwise a nice answer – Stu W Dec 7 '17 at 22:07
  • @StuW No, that's not what he says. I'm quite certain that he means ( ), i.e. the parentheses. – PYK Dec 7 '17 at 22:09
  • Oh, I see. Now it makes sense. – Stu W Dec 7 '17 at 22:14

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