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Someone had written the following sentence:

Comedy, today, is dead; murdered by political correctness.

I disagreed with their point, but rather than argue with them about that I decided to correct their comma (and semicolon) usage.

I said that the sentence should be written as follows:

Comedy today is dead, murdered by political correctness.

I reasoned that "murdered by political correctness" is not an independent clause, so a semicolon should be replaced by a comma and the first two commas were just unnecessary (I thought they made "today" an appositive of "comedy"). Side note: do the end parenthesis and period go inside the quotation mark? That doesn't look right.

I'm second guessing myself now, because there's nothing more embarrassing and lame than correcting someone's grammar and being wrong. What do you all think?

  • I don't do "correct", but I Find Your Use Of Capitals Rather Offputting. – Colin Fine Aug 1 at 11:58
  • If you used "use-mention" italics in your sentence, the quandary goes away: (I thought they made today an appositive of comedy). In that case, the full-stop comes outside the parenthesis, because the parenthesis belongs inside the sentence. Using quotation marks certainly makes things harder. – Andrew Leach Aug 1 at 12:27
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    Also, please don't ask two questions at once. You will find it far harder to accept an answer if the answers you get all answer different questions. – Andrew Leach Aug 1 at 12:29
  • Both versions are fine with me. – nnnnnn Aug 1 at 13:35
  • Unless you are being paid to do so, don't bother correcting anybody else's writing usage. Not only are they much more likely to know what they want to write than you are, but correcting others gratuitously is very bad manners. – John Lawler Aug 1 at 14:09
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Comedy, today, is dead; murdered by political correctness.

The commas surrounding "today" are correct. You can also move the "today" to the front of the sentence if comedy specifically died today. However, the semicolon is incorrect. As you wrote, "murdered by political correctness" isn't an independent clause (in fact, it isn't a clause at all because it has no subject).

Comedy today is dead, murdered by political correctness.

The lack of commas surrounding today is incorrect. "Today" in an interrupter, so it needs to have a comma before it and another after. The comma is correct, but you can instead use an em dash ("—") to add more emphasis to "murdered by political correctness."

Therefore, you have a few options (assuming you want to keep "today," which can be removed because it is an interrupter):

Comedy, today, is dead; it has been [or was] murdered by political correctness.

"It was" makes the part following the semicolon an independent clause, which makes the semicolon correct.

Comedy, today, is dead, murdered by political correctness.

This looks a little awkward and should probably be avoided.

Today, comedy is dead, murdered by political correctness.

This makes the above sentence more natural.

Comedy, today, is dead—murdered by political correctness.

The em dash instead of the comma makes the sentence more readable, even though they are essentially the same. The em dash also draws more attention to the last part of the sentence. This is, in my opinion, the best option.

Today, comedy is dead—murdered by political correctness.

This is, in my opinion, the best option (if comedy died today, specifically).

Today, comedy is dead; it has been [or was] murdered by political correctness.

This is also a pretty good option, depending on how much emphasis you want to place on the last part.


Note: the sentences that start with "today" suggest that comedy died today (specifically). I would only use those if comedy died on the day when you are speaking. There also might be slightly different variations of these sentences that I forgot, but I think I wrote (almost) all of them.

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I prefer your version of the sentence: Comedy today is dead, murdered by political correctness.

If, however, a person chose to pause after comedy and is, that would be quite OK, as in the following sentence:

Mr. Kitchener, presumably, was responsible for the mishap. [Granted, the construction and parsing of this sentence are a bit different from your original sentence.]

Speaking more quickly, that sentence becomes this sentence:

Mr. Kitchener presumably was responsible for the mishap. [In speaking the sentence quickly, there would be no need for commas.]

As for your second question about where the period in your parenthetical remark goes, the period could logically go inside the parenthesis, before or after the quotation mark, as in the following:

(I thought they made "today" an appositive of "comedy.")

(I thought they made "today" an appositive of "comedy".)

Since you are not quoting yourself when you include the word comedy in quotation marks, I think putting the period after comedy would be the way to go. If, however, you were quoting someone within your parentheses, the period would go inside the quotation mark, as in

(I suggest, by the way, that Lincoln was correct when he said, "You cannot fool all of the people all the time.")

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  • What about the 'murdered by' clause? , or ;? – Mitch Aug 1 at 12:02
  • @Mitch: Thanks for the comment. I ameneded my first sentence so as not to give short shrift to the 'murdered by' clause. As for your 'or;?', I'd need a little clarification. Don – rhetorician Aug 1 at 15:10
  • The OP's primary question is whether to use ',' or ';' to separate out the 'murdered by' ...' part. – Mitch Aug 1 at 21:23

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