7

In the sentence

What’s funny is Cat’s dry humour.

Wouldn’t it be better to put a comma after “funny”:

What’s funny, is Cat’s dry humour.

This question entails a (at the time of writing) heated discussion in the SO chat C++ lounge.

16
  • "Heated" is overstating a bit, but yeah. It's worth knowing the answer at least. (I already know, but let's get an official word. :) )
    – cHao
    Aug 2, 2012 at 14:47
  • 10
    The difference between a cat and a comma: a cat has claws at the end of its paws, and a comma is a pause at the end of a clause.
    – MetaEd
    Aug 2, 2012 at 14:52
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    @JLG: I can't help that Brits have a glut of "U"s and have to get rid of them somehow. Somewhere there's poor children that can't read cause there aren't enough "U"s. Stop the waste, Brits! Think of the children! :)
    – cHao
    Aug 2, 2012 at 15:00
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    The comma is spurious. This isn’t German.
    – tchrist
    Aug 2, 2012 at 15:01
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    As far as the UK is concerned, I think, it's a laxity in education about the rudiments of grammar. For quite some time, content and expressing ideas were king and the frilly bits like commas didn't matter. Unfortunately, grammar is necessary in order to express content clearly :-(
    – Andrew Leach
    Aug 2, 2012 at 21:41

4 Answers 4

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No, it would not be better.

The reason is that it's a single clause, with "What's funny" as the subject of the verb ("is") and "Cat's dry humour" as the complement.

Never separate the subject from its verb with a comma.

0
9

A comma isn't necessary there.

"What's funny" is a noun clause. It's similar to, for instance, "what you need."

A loan is what you need.

So:

Cat's dry humor is what's funny.

It's the same thing inverted:

What's funny is Cat's dry humor.

6

It was standard for much of Modern English history to use a comma to separate a complex subject (“What’s funny…”) from the rest of the sentence (“…is Cat’s dry humour”). This is in line with the purpose of punctuation in general—to indicate prosody. Many speakers actually do pause at that point in a sentence, so a comma seems only natural.

In the passages below, [,] denotes a comma which is present in the original text, but is widely (albeit arbitrarily) considered incorrect in contemporary English.

Treason against the United States[,] shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.

A well regulated Militia[,] being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms[,] shall not be infringed.

In short: it’s best avoided unless you’re intentionally writing in the style of the early 1800s.

2

The New Oxford Guide to Writing By Thomas S. Kane {1988} doesn't accept the mantra 'Never separate the subject from its verb with a comma' as being an inviolable edict:

The main elements of a sentence – the subject, verb and object – are not separated by commas except under unusual conditions [bolding mine]. Very occasionally when the subject is not a single word but a long construction, such as a [lengthy] noun clause, a comma may be put in at its end to signal the verb [ie make the reading easier]:

What makes the generation of the '60s different, is that it is largely inner-directed and uncontrolled by adult-doyens. [Time Magazine]

In such a sentence the comma between the subject and the verb may help readers to follow the grammar.

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  • +1 not (just) for the quote, but for common sense and a bit of antiprescriptivism. IOW never say never
    – pazzo
    Apr 10, 2015 at 18:35
  • On the other hand, that comma makes no sense for me; it doesn't help at all.
    – Andrew Leach
    Sep 26, 2015 at 18:47
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    @Andrew Leach Perhaps this example from GrammarMonster: << Leaving a list of Internet passwords, increasing your life insurance and writing a will, will give you peace of mind while you are on operations. (We judge the comma in this example to be helpful.) >>? Sep 10, 2017 at 15:04
  • No, not for me. If there were an and before "increasing" in order to make that a parenthetical insertion, then Yes. But the list is the subject, and the comma grates horribly.
    – Andrew Leach
    Sep 10, 2017 at 17:47
  • Whereas 'Never separate the subject from its verb with a comma.' puts my hackles up, as a (very good) rule of thumb presciptivised to rule status. Sep 10, 2017 at 22:36

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