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I'm trying to figure out whether to use a comma in a sentence of this construction:

The tomato is red placing it on the warm end of the colour spectrum.

The tomato is red, placing it on the warm end of the colour spectrum.

The sentence above is nonsense (I'm not a native speaker), it's just an example. I tried to simplify as much as I could to avoid jargon which is irrelevant to the question anyway.

I've tried looking it up, but either the question is too specific for the websites I've been looking at, or I'm not using the right search terms. Does anybody know which is correct?

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    I would certainly use a comma there. The combination red placing is confusing even to a native speaker. Sep 12, 2022 at 12:13
  • If you spoke it aloud, you wouldn't make red placing a constituent; instead, you'd drop your tone, then raise it again briefly. That's what a comma sounds like in speech; it's not a "pause" -- the stream of speech is continuous. It's an intonation contour, and native speakers can interpret it that way (though not all do, having been taught wrong). Sep 12, 2022 at 15:04
  • I think you're better of writing the sentence in full, even if it contains jargon. replace confidential information with XXXX if you like.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 12, 2022 at 15:41

2 Answers 2

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The present participle phrase "placing it on . . ." is parenthetical (nonrestrictive), so it should be surrounded with paired punctuation. Therefore, it should be preceded by a comma. (It should be followed by a comma, too, but the second comma gets "absorbed" by the period.)

The present participle phrase doesn't describe anything specific in the sentence but really applies to the entire preceding clause. Let's then consider a similar example:

The orchestra omits any cellos, producing a lighter sound.

As in your example, the present particple phrase modifies the entire preceding clause. It is also nonrestrictive and thus surrounded by paired commas (the second, once again, being "absorbed" by the period).

The orchestra omits any cellos producing a lighter sound.

The lack of paired punctuation suggests that the present participle phrase is restrictive. However, it would not make sense for it to restrict the preceding clause, whose meaning would be little changed without it. Therefore, it is natural to construe it as restricting the phrase "any cellos". Thus, the orchestra omits only some cellos (presumably retaining others).

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Yes, the comma is necessary. Consider this:

The tomato is red, which places it on the warm end of the color spectrum.

Subordinate clauses beginning with "which" are usually set off with a comma. Using "placing" instead of "which places" is just a verb tense change; the second part of the sentence is still the kind of subordinate (dependent) clause that should be separated with a comma.

It could be re-worded into one sentence that does not require a comma:

The tomato's red color places it on the warm end of the color spectrum.

One last bit of grammar advice that I like -- if you could set off the clause in parentheses, it means that a comma is a good idea:

Tomatoes are red (putting them at the "warm" end of the color spectrum).

(U.S. spelling of "color")

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