1

Now I was fairly certain that my comma usage is accurate, but Microsoft Word is second-guessing me, and I can't be certain whether it's correct or not. I have a sentence like this:

Based on his results, Ke posited that beginner learners may appreciate the importance of decomposing the graphic structure of the character, but may not have the analytical resources and knowledge of character components necessary to do so, and so will resort instead to rote-memorisation, or memorising a character as an unanalysed whole.

I've highlighted the comma after the first instance of the word "character". Word marks this as incorrect, and suggests that there should be no comma, leading to the very long clause:

Ke posited that beginner learners may appreciate the importance of decomposing the graphic structure of the character but may not have the analytical resources and knowledge of character components necessary to do so

Now I don't like this, and want to break it up with commas, but I'm wondering if word has a point. There are several other instances where I've used commas before the word "and" or "but" and Word tells me to change it, but I think it sounds better with the comma, such as the first comma in:

Hayes suggests that this is detrimental to beginner learners, and hypothesises that more advanced learners will prefer to process characters as whole units, rather than groups of components.

and the second comma in:

Following the studies surveyed in this chapter, it would be helpful to elaborate on the initial hypothesis presented in the introduction, and make some predictions about my own research data.

and in:

Participants were presented with a list of 60 one- or two-character Chinese words, and asked to provide the pronunciation in Romanised pinyin as well as the English meaning

Is my comma usage correct or incorrect in these cases?

  • 2
    Completely unrelated to the usage of the comma, consider the fact that it could be a run-on sentence. – psosuna May 23 '18 at 21:59
  • @psosuna It's not clear what you're saying, but "run-on sentence" has a specific grammatical meaning, and doesn't mean "a sentence that is really long". – Acccumulation May 23 '18 at 22:17
  • @Acccumulation I understand that it doesn't mean a sentence that is really long. This is a sentence that can and should probably be broken down into separate sentences because of how conjunctions and prepositions are being used. Namely, I'm pointing at "and so will". – psosuna May 23 '18 at 22:28
3

Commas serve to spit sentences up, and tell the reader "you should parse this according to a wider context than you would without the comma". That is, "X Y, and Z" gives the impression that it's "(X Y) and Z" rather than "X (Y and Z)".

For instance, with the comma, I first read it as

Ke (posited that beginner learners may appreciate the importance of decomposing the graphic structure of the character) but ([Ke] may not have the analytical resources and knowledge of character components necessary to do so).

That is, "Ke" is the subject of both "posited" and "may not have". Without the comma, the (presumably) intended meaning of

Ke posited that (beginner learners (may appreciate the importance of decomposing the graphic structure of the character) but ([beginner learners] may not have the analytical resources and knowledge of character components necessary to do so))

is clearer, albeit at the cost of the very long passage that you noted. A slightly shorter rewriting would be:

Ke posited that beginner learners may appreciate the importance of decomposing the graphic structure of the character but lack the analytical resources and knowledge of character components necessary to do so

In the next passage, the comma is appropriate, as you intend

Hayes suggests (that this is detrimental to beginner learners), and ([Hayes] hypothesises that more advanced learners will prefer to process characters as whole units, rather than groups of components).

rather than

Hayes suggests that this is detrimental to (beginner learners and hypothesises) that more advanced learners will prefer to process characters as whole units, rather than groups of components.

(And I take it Word is also informing you that "hypothesises" is the "incorrect" spelling?)

The next two are edge cases, but I lean towards omitting, absent further context.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.