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In the latest issue of The Economist there is the following sentence:-

"And in China, unlike India, you can shop at Walmart, most of the time."

Firstly, shouldn't it be "...unlike in India? Else it could also mean that India, or someone called India is not able/permitted to shop at Walmart. Not that we'd interpret it thus, but just clarifying the technicality.

Secondly, with or without the comma, the meaning would be pretty much the same. But it seems to me that the comma seems to additionally draw attention to the fact that Walmart shopping in China is not as widespread. The implication would be there without the comma, but I think the stress then would be only the fact that India hasn't opened up to Walmart yet; here it means that, plus the fact that China itself is no great host to it.

Agree?

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  • Grammatically speaking I'm sure both the first two commas should be present to delineate the parenthetical reference to India being different. The presence of the third comma, on the other hand, draws attention to the fact that you can't always shop at Walmart in China. Unless you and whoever you're talking to have a mutual acquaintance called India, and you placed stress on the word you, I don't think your contrived interpretation would be enough to justify saying the word in needs to be there to disambiguate the meaning. Dec 15, 2011 at 18:22
  • Just to provide some context: The Economist uses "most of the time" because some of Walmart's stores in China were temporarily closed due to the mislabelling of certain products (regular pork as organic pork, if I recall correctly).
    – Bjorn
    Dec 15, 2011 at 18:26
  • You have two questions here, "in" and the comma, which are unrelated except in source. You'd do better to split this apart. (Already there is one answer that addresses the first half but not the question in your title.) Dec 15, 2011 at 19:14

2 Answers 2

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As usual with commas, it all depends on what intonation the writer intended, and what intonation the reader interprets.

Everybody knows you can pronounce English sentences with lots of different intonation contours, usually with different meanings. This doesn't come across well in orthography, which is a poor representation of real (i.e, spoken) English.

If your Mind's Ear metaphorically "hears" a particular intonation in a written sentence, and that intonation has a particular sense to you, then that's what it means. Punctuation is a work in progress, and commas, in particular, are intended by many to indicate an intonational contour.

Any style and grammar guide that doesn't mention such intonation in a discussion on comma usage is not going to give satisfaction, I'm afraid.

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Most style and grammar guides (like this one) tell you that you only need to repeat prepositions in coordinate phrases (in China, in India) when they are required for clarity, or when leaving them out would break the parallel construction of the phrase.

Both seem would be to be the case in the sentence in your question, but it got past The Economist's estimable editors.

The "unlike India" phrase is noting that there are no Wal-Marts (or any other big-box stores) in India. (The Indian government agreed open its retail sector to companies like Wal-Mart a couple of weeks ago, but recently reversed itself.)

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