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I'm trying to understand if these two phrases at the end of the sentence are acting restrictively or non-restrictively. Can you please help?

As far as I know, a comma is generally used before a non-restrictive participle phrase.

Mary whirled through the large room, waving her hands in the air.

A comma is not used if the meaning is restrictive.

She was in the kitchen making lunch.

In this sentence, is a comma needed before "getting" to show non-restrictive meaning? Or can I choose to withhold the comma?

Her mother was at the coffee shop getting coffee and making calls to her friends.

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    'The boy waving his hands in the air is my son' shows a defining / restrictive participle clause. It identifies which of the (one assumes several boys in view) I'm talking about. // 'The boy, waving his hands in the air, dashed through the room' merely adds information to the matrix sentence 'The boy dashed through the room'. It is reordering of 'The boy dashed through the room, waving his hands in the air' and just couples two observations. //// Your first example is merely two observations of a two-part scene coupled. Your second example is trickier, as there may be more of an ... – Edwin Ashworth Feb 9 '18 at 22:21
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    implication of reason in this case. A paraphrase of 'She was in the kitchen making lunch' may be 'She was in the kitchen, where she was making lunch'; another might be 'She was in the kitchen for the purpose of making lunch'. The comma indicates the two-observation ([in the kitchen] and [making lunch]) reading rather than the phase ([in the kitchen to make lunch]) reading. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 9 '18 at 22:28
  • In that case, can I insert a comma like this to show two observations: Her mother was at the coffee shop, getting coffee and making phone calls to her friends. What I'm trying to understand is that whether inserting a comma here still makes the sentence grammatically appropriate. – skywardhope Feb 9 '18 at 22:32
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    I think that this just links three synchronous events. I'd add the comma if only to give the reader a breathing space. – Edwin Ashworth Feb 9 '18 at 23:57
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    +1, +1, +1 @EdwinAshworth is right, the comma is appropriate after kitchen, and not wrong after the coffee shop ... it's not strictly necessary in either case but it does help to separate the actions. You could also place the comma after coffee, either works in this case. – Will Crawford Feb 10 '18 at 0:11
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Mary whirled through the large room, waving her hands in the air.

She was in the kitchen making lunch.

It's a question of whether the gerund-participial clauses are modifiers or supplements. The latter kind are inherently non-restrictive by virtue of not being integrated into clause structure.

A comma is not a foolproof test for supplementation (non-restrictiveness) -- in your examples the commas are in any case optional.

The two clauses are sufficiently integrated into clause structure to qualify as modifiers, not supplements. More precisely, they are depictive adjuncts giving descriptive information about "Mary" and "she". They are interpreted with progressive aspectuality, cf. Mary was waving her hands in the air / She was making lunch.

  • Pardon me, but I really do not feel like the topic of "gerund-participial clauses" play a role here. Or at least, I don't recognize it. – Allex Kramer Apr 3 at 13:21
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If you were saying the words aloud to someone would you pause slightly or not after the word "coffee"? You might, if you wanted to warn the listener that some surprise was on the way. "She was in the coffee shop, seeing if they also sold engine oil." But otherwise there is no need at all for a comma in your sentence.

Where you put commas is generally one of those matters of taste that nevertheless excites fierce disagreement amongst some native speakers. But @Edwin Ashworth rightly draws attention to the use of a comma in the very particular case that you are defining something or somebody. In that case leaving out the comma can cause confusion.

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