1

I find myself writing sentences like this often:

A. Here's a summary of our discussion, and if needed, more detail can be found at www.website.com.

I'm not sure if the commas there look quite right. Assuming that "if needed" is in fact a parenthetical, then I'd thought it needed a pair of commas (or parentheses, em dashes) to separate it:

B. Here's a summary of our discussion, and, if needed, more detail can be found at www.website.com.

This continues to separate the two independent clauses with a comma (the one after "discussion"), but that's a lot of commas. Alternately, there's this one.

C. Here's a summary of our discussion, and if needed more detail can be found at www.website.com.

But this reads awkwardly to me: it feels as though there's a "you" missing after the "if."

I'm looking to understand the core issue with comma placement for this particular sentence structure. So, here are my questions:

  • Is "if needed" a parenthetical statement?
  • Without rewording the whole sentence, what comma placement is grammatically best?
3

A case can be made for all three versions. To start with, if needed is not necessarily a parenthetical—it can be, but it can also just be a constituent in the sentence. If you pause before it, it’s a parenthetical; if you don’t, it’s not.

If we treat if needed as a parenthetical, then (B) is definitely the correct option: parentheticals need enclosing commas; that’s our cue that they’re parentheticals. The conjunction and also needs a preceding comma. So:

(B) Here's a summary of our discussion, and, if needed, more detail can be found at www.website.com.

The comma before and would be considered obligatory to most purists, since and starts a separate main clause here; but informally, you can probably get away with omitting it:

Here's a summary of our discussion and, if needed, more detail can be found at www.website.com. (?)

 

If we don’t treat if needed as a parenthetical, then there is no need to put a comma before it. It is still a kind of adverbial-like constituent that starts the clause, however, and those are commonly, but not mandatorily, separated from the rest of the clause by a comma, especially if they’re very long:

Yesterday(,) I went swimming.
Every night at around half past one when I’ve been tossing and turning in bed for an hour without being able to get to sleep, [← pretty much has to be there] I get up and drink a glass of water.

If needed is quite short, so it can take a comma or not, depending on preference. Thus, neither (A) nor (C) can be considered incorrect:

(A) Here's a summary of our discussion, and if needed, more detail can be found at www.website.com. (√)

(C) Here's a summary of our discussion, and if needed more detail can be found at www.website.com. (√)

So essentially, all three are correct, and even a fourth one would probably not land you in big trouble. Remember that punctuation has nothing to do with grammar, although it can (and should) make text more understandable. That is its purpose. In the end, punctuation is really a matter of style.

 

A different matter is whether you really want to be using that and in this case at all. The two main clauses are quite independent of each other and fairly orthogonal in meaning: there is no logical progression from one to the other that really justifies an and to begin with. A better alternative may be to simply split the clauses into separate sentences, separated by either a full stop or a semicolon:

Here's a summary of our discussion. If needed, more detail can be found at www.website.com.

Here's a summary of our discussion; if needed, more detail can be found at www.website.com.

  • 1
    A is also fine, though, since if needed is not necessarily a parenthetical. If you pause before it, then it's a parenthetical; if you don't, then it's not. More importantly, though, I find the use of and here unusual to begin with. I would definitely advise splitting it up into two sentences as the middle part of your answer says (though my preference would perhaps be for a semicolon rather than a full stop). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 12 '17 at 16:53
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Thanks for that. What about my third option? – Mick Dec 12 '17 at 16:55
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    I would opt for your third example: "Here's a summary of our discussion and, if needed, more detail can be found at www.website.com." Adding an additional comma before "and" just chops up the sentence too much. – Mark Hubbard Dec 12 '17 at 16:57
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    I’d be one of the purists there who would strongly prefer the comma before the and — probably even more so because and just sounds unnatural to me here in any capacity. The two statements are too orthogonal for and to sound logical to me. Even if they were more ‘conjunctionally related’ statements, though, I’d always opt for the comma before and, even if I left out the one before (and optionally the one after) if needed. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Dec 12 '17 at 16:58
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    @JanusBahsJacquet I was idly perusing my past answers, when I came across this effort. Impressed, I thought to myself, "Gosh! Did I write all that?" When I came to your last comment, I realised that, no, I didn't. Nice work! – Mick Jul 21 at 18:27

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