Good day,

I came across a following citation from a book: "I have not slept soundly for many years. Not since the war when I was knocked out for two days have I really lost consciousness as a child loses consciousness in sleep and wakes to a new world not even remembering when he went to bed."

The second sentence was hard to comprehend for me from a first pass, hence I'm asking whether it's correct to enclose "when I was knocked out for to days" commas? I.e. is this author's specific style or rather a natural way to construct a complex sentence in English (that other native English readers are expected to digest seamlessly).

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    The lack of commas just means that when I was knocked out for two days is restrictive information. It is something that is essential to the meaning of the sentence. (Unlike nonrestrictive information which can be removed without altering the meaning of the sentence.) Based on what the author wanted to convey, we can only assume that the lack of commas was deliberate. (Adding commas would change the meaning of the sentence.) Commented Jan 1, 2019 at 11:49
  • You mean that putting comma's would imply that "being knocked out (unconscious?) for two days" is not necessary the reason for bad sleep?
    – Zaar Hai
    Commented Jan 2, 2019 at 14:29
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    Not since the war (side note: I got knocked out for two days then) have I really lost consciousness. Here, the parentheses and everything inside them can be removed while the sentence remains grammatical. The same is true of the use of commas. I'm not saying the information isn't important, just that if you use commas, everything between them can be removed without affecting the grammar of the sentence. Why you are having bad sleep is something quite different. Even without the commas, nothing about the passage says that event is the cause of future bad sleep. That's just as assumption. Commented Jan 2, 2019 at 16:34

1 Answer 1


As a moderately literate native speaker, I would classify the quoted sentence as digestible as it stands. The quotation is from "The Moviegoer" (1961) by the American Walker Percy (1916-1990), about a character called “Binx” Bolling. Percy trained as a doctor, but became known as a writer. He is known for his philosophical novels set in and around New Orleans, the first of which, this novel, won the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction. He taught and mentored younger writers while teaching at Loyola University of New Orleans, and was considered a significant figure in American post-war literature, being awarded a number of prizes. His interests included philosophy and semiotics.

Walker Percy

Thus it can be assumed that he "knew how to write", and I would conclude that the omission of punctuation is done deliberately to achieve a particular effect. This is mainly seen in a style of writing called "stream of consciousness" (note that the last word of that phrase occurs twice in the piece you quoted). A well-known writer in that style is James Joyce, and an often-quoted Joyce piece is about the unsuccessful search for sleep.

Stream of consciousness

In an almost stream of consciousness mode, Binx deconstructs everything and everyone around him.

Essay about The Moviegoer

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    I wonder if I have just done someone's homework for them? Commented Jan 1, 2019 at 10:44
  • No, you did no one's homework - just provided me with very interesting information which I'm very thankful for.
    – Zaar Hai
    Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 14:32

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