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I believe I've got the proper comma placements for these two sentences:

"The ball fell to the ground, and he caught it after it bounced."

"After it bounced, he caught it."

Combining these sentences, would it be like this:

"The ball fell to the ground, and after it bounced, he caught it."

or like this:

"The ball fell to the ground, and, after it bounced, he caught it."?

I think I've seen it done the first way, but I instinctively feel the need to add in the extra comma to separate the subordinate clause from the "connection" between the word "and" and the independent clause.

Are both of these correct or only one? If both, is there any meaningful difference in the meanings?

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  • Where does this instinct come from? What are you distinguishing from what? Apr 1, 2023 at 20:25
  • @JohnLawler The comma before "and" is because "he caught it" is in dependant - there is a "connection" between those parts of the sentence. When a subordinate clause like "after it bounced" is inserted between "and" and the independent clause, it feels like it is breaking that connection. It feels strange putting a comma before "and" when it is followed by a subordinate clause. In combination with the comma after the subordinate clause, putting a comma before it makes it feel seperated from the rest of the sentence, allowing the connection between the "and" and the independent clause.
    – Adam
    Apr 1, 2023 at 20:44
  • As a native speaker, it is hard to tell if my gut feeling is a load of nonsense or actually touching on unconsciously known grammatical principles.
    – Adam
    Apr 1, 2023 at 20:45
  • If you're a native speaker, say it out loud and listen for the pitch to dip. That's a comma. If you hear it put it in. Apr 1, 2023 at 20:54
  • @JohnLawler But now I'm overthinking it and don't know if I'm saying it wrong, too. Both ways sound fine to me, but I'm not sure if that's because they're both viable or because of some misconception.
    – Adam
    Apr 1, 2023 at 21:41

1 Answer 1

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The use of the comma is a matter of style, and there are as many places to put a comma as there are styles.

The Chicago Manual of Style, for one, addresses your situation in the second scenario (two independent clauses) below:

6.32: Commas with a participial or adverbial phrase plus a conjunction

When a participial or adverbial phrase immediately follows a coordinating conjunction, the use of commas depends on whether the conjunction joins two independent sentences. If the conjunction is simply a part of the predicate or joins a compound predicate, the first comma follows the conjunction (see also 6.23).
We were extremely tired and, in light of our binge the night before, anxious to go home.
The Packers trailed at halftime but, buoyed by Rodgers’s arm, stormed back to win.

If the conjunction joins two independent clauses, however, the comma precedes the conjunction (see also 6.22).
We were elated, but realizing that the day was almost over, we decided to go to bed.

Strictly speaking, it would not be wrong to add a second comma after but in the last example. Such usage, which would extend the logic of commas in pairs (see 6.17), may be preferred in certain cases for emphasis or clarity. See also 6.26.

Source: The Chicago Manual of Style (login required)

So:

The ball fell to the ground, and after it bounced, he caught it.

Or (fussier):

The ball fell to the ground, and, after it bounced, he caught it.

Or:

The ball fell to the ground and, after it bounced, exploded above the hot sidewalk.

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  • Thanks for the reply. I think I'll continue to use the second example since it is seen as a viable option. I googled that "logic of commas in pairs" that your source mentioned, and I think that it is something I have been subconsciously acknowledging. I was worried about writing it that way since I usually see it done the first way, so it's nice to see that both are valid.
    – Adam
    Apr 3, 2023 at 3:35

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