1

Visa Inc., MasterCard Inc. and some large banks agreed to pay scores of retailers—from giant Publix Supermarkets Inc. to an interior-design store in Minnesota—more than $6 billion to settle a long-running lawsuit, in a pact that also permits merchants to charge more to customers who pay with credit cards. — WSJ

How would the meaning change if that comma between "lawsuit" and "in a pact" is removed?

Another example:

  • The two sides have agreed to stop fighting in a pact that allows further peace talks.
  • The two sides have agreed to stop fighting, in a pact that allows further peace talks.
1

2 Answers 2

4

It would not change the meaning at all in this case. Removing the comma could conceivably shift the referent of "in a pact" from "agreed" to "lawsuit", except that it makes no sense to consider a lawsuit as part of a pact, at least in this context.

Edit to answer OP's comment question: Example where the meaning could arguably change:

  • The kids agreed to stop fighting after dinner. They have been fighting after dinner...but now they have agreed to stop.

  • The kids agreed to stop fighting, after dinner. They fought at any time, and it was not until after dinner that they agreed to stop.

5
  • I added another example in my original post. So, these are the same?
    – Nortonn S
    Jul 16, 2012 at 16:54
  • Arguably clues as to the linguistic competence of the writer are part of the meaning (or, at least, "meta-meaning"). In such a convoluted sentence as OP's example, I think any competent writer would include the comma, so the lack of it would tell me the writer wasn't actually very good at his job. Jul 16, 2012 at 17:08
  • Thank you for your reply, JeffSahol! For the kids fighting example, I see they both could mean that 1) the agreement took place after dinner, or 2) the agreement was for a post-dinner stoppage of the fighting. Which sentence should have which meaning?
    – Nortonn S
    Jul 16, 2012 at 17:52
  • 1
    Both of your examples could mean that the kids agreed that they would continue to fight until they had had dinner, when they would stop.
    – Andrew Leach
    Jul 16, 2012 at 18:29
  • Agreed, @AndrewLeach. There is no perfect example (one that is unambiguously defined by the presence or absence of the comma), ... I was just trying to help the OP with his questions.
    – JeffSahol
    Jul 16, 2012 at 18:55
1

It would change the meaning entirely in this case. Removing the comma would conceivably shift the referent of "in a pact" from "agreed" to "lawsuit", except that it makes no sense to consider a lawsuit as part of a pact, at least in this context.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.