This is a sentence from the book "The Brothers Karamazov" (page 8):

He spent a disorderly adolescence and youth: he never finished high school; later he landed in some military school, then turned up in the Caucasus, was promoted, fought a duel, was broken to the ranks, promoted again, led a wild life, and spent, comparatively, a great deal of money.

I am totally lost in these commas living in the middle because from my analysis, things are like this: all the separations are a list of something for the giveaway of the last ", and", but I don't understand what are these separations exactly are. Are they independent clauses delibarately missing the subject "he" or something else?

1 Answer 1


It's not too clear, is it! The original as you suspect contains multiple subject deletions. There's also a missing 'was', and the deletions occurring in multiple predicates gets messy in any case.

Below is the same potted history in note fashion (but consistent grammar):

He spent a disorderly adolescence and youth:

  • (1) He never finished high school.
  • (2a) Later he landed in some military school –
  • (2b) then he turned up in the Caucasus,
  • (2c) [where] [he] was promoted,
  • (2d) [then] fought a duel and
  • (2e) was consequently broken to the ranks. [But]
  • (2f) [he was later] promoted again.

He led a wild life, getting through a great deal of money.

  • But this question is really not specific enough for ELU; I'll delete in a couple of days. I needed the formatting an 'answer' affords. Apr 5, 2021 at 11:45
  • Thanks for your answer, but I still have some problems with this sentence. Firstly, does (2b) omiss "and" before the "then"? Secondly, it seems reasonable for (2c) to sub [where] for [and], doesn't it? Lastly, this sentence seems quite arbitrary to delete things, so is there any general rules for the deletions? Thanks again.
    – babeimi
    Apr 5, 2021 at 13:06
  • (2b) 'then' and 'and then' are largely interchangeable, certainly here. / (2c) I prefer 'where'; if this is historically inaccurate (within the fictional narrative!), I'd want a new sentence, with another 'later' or 'after some time' to show a time gap. / (3a) Deletions should be used only where structure is preserved. So 'He went home, washed his hands, and later to the cinema' is unacceptable. 'He went home, then later to the cinema' is fine. (3b) Zeugmas should be avoided also. 'He was going back to Elbonia and mad' is ghastly. (3c) Non-sequiturs are ... Apr 5, 2021 at 13:29
  • bad ('He could talk well at 18 months and was knighted when he was 67'). (3d) Three compound predicates is probably the sensible upper limit. // Note that other translations are available. Apr 5, 2021 at 13:30
  • Thanks a lot for your help! Acutally, I have read all the Dostoevsky in Chinese. This time reading in English could help me both in the understanding and language itself. Comparatively, the Chinese version is more concise but the English is more accurate. Besides, I just found a less complicated version translated by Andrew R. MacAndrew.
    – babeimi
    Apr 5, 2021 at 15:29

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