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The Chauvet cave is unique because its preservation is unprecedented ? despite containing the oldest paintings ever discovered.

Do I need a comma here?

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  • @PeterShor I don't know where you got that idea. The use of a gerund following the prepositional use of "despite" is very common if the preposition's subject is the clause's subject. Whether it's acceptable or not to use it in this way is minimally up for contentious debate if not downright acceptable.
    – R Mac
    Commented Mar 5, 2020 at 18:05
  • @RMac: You're absolutely right. I've deleted my comment. Here, the problem is that the preposition's subject (Chauvet cave) is not the clause's subject (preservation). Commented Mar 5, 2020 at 18:32
  • @PeterShor To be honest, I'm not convinced that "preservation" is the subject of the preposition. The word "despite" doesn't seem contextually appropriate here, regardless whether it is grammatical or not.
    – R Mac
    Commented Mar 5, 2020 at 19:56
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    The sentence is a hair confusing regardless, but I wouldn't argue with placing a comma at the ?.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Mar 5, 2020 at 23:46
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    This sentence is very confused. Regardless of comma placement, the sentence is interpreted to mean “Normally, a cave that contains the oldest paintings ever discovered would prevent a cave from being classified as unique but we are still going to call it unique despite its contents.” The word despite needs to go!
    – Jim
    Commented Apr 5, 2020 at 2:10

1 Answer 1

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Your sentence is unclear, but—at the very least—you have a misplaced modifier.

Your prepositional phrase—despite containing the oldest paintings ever discovered—is meant to modify the Chauvet Cave—that thing that contains the oldest paintings ever discovered.

You need to move the prepositional phrase next to the cave:

Despite containing the oldest paintings ever discovered, the Chauvet Cave is unique because its preservation is unprecedented.
or
The Chauvet Cave, despite containing the oldest paintings ever discovered, is unique because its preservation is unprecedented.

My hunch is that you are trying to say something more like this:

Despite being the oldest cave paintings ever discovered, the Chauvet Cave paintings are preserved like no others.

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  • Yes, good job trying to figure out what it means. I think he wants to say something like "...the preservation is unprecedented despite its great antiquity" but the final few words ("ever discovered") render it meaningless. Being old affects the likelihood of preservation, but being the oldest thing ever discovered has no effect on its preservation, because it may be from 200,000 years ago or last week.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Mar 6, 2020 at 16:50
  • @StuartF: From what I understand, these old paintings are well preserved because a rockfall sealed the cave 21,000 years ago. An unsealed cave of that age would be deteriorated. So even though the artwork is ancient, unique circumstances kept it preserved. Commented Mar 6, 2020 at 17:45
  • In addition to all the problems already noted by others, the sentence is confusing because preservation in the contexts of this kind can stand either for some actions deliberately undertaken to preserve the thing in question, or for the state of being preserved, possibly due to natural causes. Despite is intelligible only if one assumes that the latter sense is intended, but unprecedented would go better with the former.
    – jsw29
    Commented Aug 3, 2020 at 15:45

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