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When using a comma to create a pause in a sentence, can you then use commas immediately after to list things?

I've written the sentence,

Like the ancient tales of yore, we bore witness to our salvation.

Now I know the comma isn't exactly necessary in this sentence and is only there to reflect the character's cadence, but if I wanted to add some drama to the sentence and list things after the comma, would using a comma to begin or list the items make sense?

eg:

Like the ancient tales of yore, of good and evil, angels and demons, light and darkness, we bore witness to our salvation.

Obviously its not all necessary text and I'll probably go back and change it later, but it did get me thinking about what options you have in situations like that and now I'm just interested.

  • @PeterShor Ah, thanks for pointing this out, learnt something new today! So due to the varying usage of of, the flow of it sounds strange, but does it grammatically work or is this a bit of a faux-pas? – Tenkster Aug 6 '18 at 14:40
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This is an example of zeugma—you have used of in two different ways. That's why it sounds strange. It works very well for humorous writing (see Flanders and Swann), but you should avoid this kind of zeugma in formal writing.

And there's nothing wrong with your commas. If it weren't for the two different uses of of, your sentence would be fine.

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    Yes. Even so I think I might introduce an em dash. "Like the ancient tales of yore - good and evil, ancients and demons, light and darkness - we bore witness..." – WS2 Aug 6 '18 at 15:14
  • @WS2 Oh, I like the idea of em dashing, thanks! Helps visually break it up a bit more. – Tenkster Aug 6 '18 at 15:22
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I don't see a problem with it. Of good and evil, angels and demons, light and darkness is an adjectival clause that modifies the noun phrase ancient tales of yore; it tells us more about those ancient tales of yore. Within that adjectival clause is a serial list, so it's entirely appropriate to separate the individual items with commas. I think the sentence might be slightly improved (and make you more comfortable too), though, by setting off that adjectival clause with em dashes, as follows:

Like the ancient tales of yore -- of good and evil, angels and demons, light and darkness -- we bore witness to our salvation.

  • Thanks for going into the grammatical ruling/ detailed explanation on these concepts, appreciate learning more on things I vaguely know! I like the suggestion of em dashes, makes it a bit easier to read and follow thanks to the clear separation. If both my usage of commas or the suggestion of em dashes are correct, is it then generally just up to preference for which to use? – Tenkster Aug 6 '18 at 15:27
  • I myself asked on here about the precise time to use em dashes instead of commas, and I received an answer that reiterated what I already knew, instead of adding more precision to the decision: when a harder break is needed, you can go for the em dashes. Consider the difference between these two sentences: Bob, my brother, threw me the ball. Bob -- the person who tormented me more than all others in the world, who goes by the name of "brother," ironically enough -- threw me the ball. That might make it a bit clearer. – JoshG Aug 6 '18 at 15:49

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