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I cannot understand the usage of comma after "chapel" in this sentence:

Its long, damp passages, its narrow cells and ruined chapel, were to be within her daily reach, and she could not entirely subdue the hope of some traditional legends, some awful memorials of an injured and ill-fated nun.

Why is a comma used here, and what is the sentence structure?

The sentence is an excerpt from "Northanger Abbey" by Jane Austen.

marked as duplicate by Edwin Ashworth, Mitch, K J, Chappo, JJJ Jul 18 at 0:15

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  • Which comma are you referring to? There are quite a lot in that one sentence. – Tim Foster Jul 4 at 9:49
  • I am referring to the comma after the word chapel.[ Its long, damp passages, its narrow cells and ruined chapel , (the comma right here)] – Saqlain Jul 4 at 9:52
  • Sorry it seems I can't read questions properly – Tim Foster Jul 4 at 10:01
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    Jane Austen lists three things (passages, cells and chapel) which were going to be near Catherine while she stayed at the Abbey. The comma at the end of the list isn't strictly necessary, but it makes the sentence easier to understand. – Kate Bunting Jul 4 at 12:46
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    Possible duplicate of Is a comma necessary in "What’s funny, is …"? where " 'The New Oxford Guide' to Writing By Thomas S. Kane {1988} doesn't accept the mantra 'Never separate the subject from its verb with a comma' as being an inviolable edict... " appears. Other punctuation guides maintain that the rule is inviolate. They have to rate this as poor punctuation by Austin. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 4 at 16:16
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Here is the relevant portion of the original sentence:

Its long, damp passages, its narrow cells and ruined chapel, were to be within her daily reach.

I would interpret it in this way:

Its long, damp passages (its narrow cells and ruined chapel) were to be within her daily reach.

→ Its long, damp passages were to be within her daily reach.

In other words, the second and third commas in the original version are used to represent parenthetical information that could be removed without affecting the syntax of the sentence.


If it's supposed to be describing three things that were to be within her daily reach, then the use of the third comma is somewhat misleading.

Instead, I would rephrase it in a few different ways:

  1. Its long, damp passages, its narrow cells and its ruined chapel were to be within her daily reach.

This removes the original third comma and adds its in front of the third item in order to preserve parallelism with the syntax of the first two items.

If you wished, you could add a serial comma after cells.

  1. Its long, damp passages, its narrow cells and its ruined chapel: they were to be within her daily reach.

  2. Its long, damp passages, its narrow cells and its ruined chapel—they were to be within her daily reach.

Both the colon and the dash add the kind of pause after the list of items that a comma normally would—but, unlike the comma, they don't indicate that anything is parenthetical.

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