comma before or after 'because' [conjunction, until, after, before]

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Yôn, Apr 30, 2007.

  1. Yôn Senior Member

    English
    Hello folks,

    I was reading through my physics book and came across the following sentence as part of a quote by Werner Heisenberg:

    —After this discovery everything looked different, because one could ask, why should a photon not sometimes be a photon plus an electron-positron pair and so on?—

    I thought there should be a comma here ‘...this discovery, everything...’, so I went to searching through my writing guide, but it seemed not to offer any insight on whether putting a comma in a place like this would be required and/or appropriate. I did find an instance in the writing guide where they used the following example:

    —Before 8000 BC wheat was not the luxuriant plant it is today; it was merely a wild grass that spread throughout the Middle East.—

    Once again, I was confused because I thought there should be a comma ‘Before 8000 BC, wheat was...’ but I did not think the writing guide would make a mistake. But then I saw this:

    —Until he noticed the handprint on the wall, the detective was frustrated by the lack of clues.—

    Now, I thought that ‘until’, ‘before’, and ‘after’ would be somewhat similar words. I was certainly sure that they would all fall into the same grouping as ‘when’, after which I know you use a comma. And, just when I was confused like never before, the good ol’ physics book writes this:

    —After the experimental discovery of this Lamb shift, quantum field theorists calculated it.—

    Forget the fact that this is about calculating quantum thinga majigs and makes no sense to begin with, but it goes against the other example for ‘after’.

    So, my question is this: When do you use the comma in constructions with ‘after’, ‘before’, or ‘until’? If there aren't any solid rules, perhaps someone could simply clarify why the authors above chose the comma/no comma set up they did?

    Thank you so much,
    Jon
     
  2. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    After this discovery, everything looked different, because one could ask, why should a photon not sometimes be a photon plus an electron-positron pair and so on?—
    Red comma optional.

    Before 8000 BC, wheat was not the luxuriant plant it is today; it was merely a wild grass that spread throughout the Middle East.—
    Red comma optional.

    Until he noticed the handprint on the wall, the detective was frustrated by the lack of clues.—
    Fine, no commas optional.

    After the experimental discovery of this Lamb shift, quantum field theorists calculated it.—
    Fine, no commas optional.
     
  3. AngelEyes Senior Member

    English - United States
    I have a question about this sentence. Why isn't the comma placed after because? You can take out the phrase one could ask and still have the sentence.

    Like this:
    After this discovery everything looked different because, one could ask, why should a photon not sometimes be a photon plus an electron-positron pair and so on?—

    Here it is originally in Yôn's post:

    After this discovery everything looked different, because one could ask, why should a photon not sometimes be a photon plus an electron-positron pair and so on?

    I have a terrible time with commas. If anyone can clarify this for me, I'd really appreciate it.

    Thanks...


    AngelEyes
     
  4. Blumengarten Senior Member

    Pennsylvania
    America / English
    I find commas very troubling too, not because I don't know how to use them, but because different style books will give you different answers! Newspaper and magazine style books tell you to drop all non-essential commas (and even some that I believe are important, like the one before the and in a series, especially if there are pairs in the series), because the less room devoted to article text, the more space available to sell as ads! It doesn't seem that eliminating commas really could save all that much space, but who am I to argue?

    I would put the comma after the because, not before it, since you could eliminate the phrase "one could ask" and not change the meaning of the sentence .. and then you would need a comma between the because and why to set of the final phrase.
     
  5. Yôn Senior Member

    English

    Well, no, you wouldn't have a sentence. Read it without the ‘one could ask’. It doesn't sound right, and leaves us with the question, ‘because...?’

    —After this discovery everything looked different because.—

    If we read just the end, ‘...one could ask, why should a photon not sometimes be a photon plus an electron-positron pair and so on?’

    You're right, this is a sentence on its own, but we need the ‘because’ in order to show its relationship to the first clause, ‘After this discovery everything looked different.’ If we omit ‘because’, then we have to use a semi-colon instead. If we include ‘because’—which we should, to show how the clauses relate—, then just a comma is needed, though it seems optional based on my writing guide.

    Jon
     
  6. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    The standard answer I've heard is that the "normal" position of an adverb phrase or clause is after what is being modified:

    "Everything looked different after this discovery, ..."

    No comma needed for "after". But when the adverbial construct is first, it will usually be followed by a comma:

    "After this discovery, everything looked different, ..."

    However, if the phrase is short, as in this sentence, provided there is no tendency to misread, the comma can be omitted, especially in a sentence that already has plenty of commas:

    "After this discovery everything looked different, ..."

    Conversely, a comma can sometimes be used to separate such a phrase from the rest of a sentence when there is a change in the train of thought, for emphasis, or to show a pause in speaking:

    "I'm all packed and ready to go, after I find my toothbrush."

    Examples of sentences that need the comma to prevent a double-take due to misreading (from Birk & Birk):

    "After all I had done my best to help him." :cross:
    "While he was riding his horse lost a shoe." :cross:

    "After all, I had done my best to help him." :tick:
    "While he was riding, his horse lost a shoe." :tick:
     
  7. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Putting a comma after because changes the sentence considerably.
    No comma after because:
    After this discovery everything looked different because one could ask, <words...words>.
    The words in <...> are the question it is now possible to ask.

    Comma after because:
    After this discovery everything looked different because, one could ask, <words...words>.
    This sentence structure doesn't make sense.
    It makes sense if the bit in <...> is the reason everything looked different and ask becomes say.

    I would have punctuated the sentence like this:
    After this discovery everything looked different, because one could ask, "Why should a photon not sometimes be a photon plus an electron-positron pair?" and so on.
     
  8. replicante7

    replicante7 Senior Member

    Barcelona / Spain
    español Cuba
    Hi, everybody
    I have been reading this thread because I would learn about "comma topic". All the examples in your posts kept the comma appearing previous "why" ("why,").
    Could you tell me if that comma is a must? Since my "Spanish point of view" that comma is breaking the logical link (for saying it in my limited vocabulary;)) between "one could ask" (a subject) and the sentence part refering to that subject.
    Thaks a lot!
     
  9. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I'm hoping that you are asking about the comma before why:
    looked different, because one could ask, why should a photon not sometimes be

    The part of this sentence beginning with why ... is presented as if it were direct speech - that's why I put it inside quotation marks. The comma before why is therefore necessary.

    In a different form of this sentence, changing to a reported speech structure, the comma would need to be omitted:
    because one could ask why a photon should not sometimes be a photon plus an electron-positron pair, and so on.
     
  10. river Senior Member

    U.S. English
    "You need not set off the simple introductory prepositional phrase --preposition, object, and object modifier(s)-- with a comma unless the phrase is to be emphasized or unless the phrase might be misread without the comma."

    In a few cases you will find a winner.
    In June 1996 all the building plans had the necessay financial backing.
     
  11. AngelEyes Senior Member

    English - United States
    MY VERSION: After this discovery everything looked different because, one could ask, why should a photon not sometimes be a photon plus an electron-positron pair and so on?

    If you take out the clause set off by commas - one could ask - you'd still have a sentence that makes sense. Yes, you'd have to move that comma then, but the missing words wouldn't be missed.

    After this discovery everything looked different, because why should a photon not sometimes be a photon, plus an electron-positron pair and so on?
    (I also added that comma I feel is needed after "photon.")

    BUT, take out the original clause...

    After this discovery everything looked different; why should a photon not sometimes be a photon, plus an electron-positron pair and so on?

    You can get it to work by adding a semi-colon.

    However, isn't the point of a clause set off by commas that you will not miss them if they're gone? Keeping as close as possible to the original sentence, keeping because in it does that, and you can only do that by setting off the words one could ask by the commas.

    I'm not trying to be difficult. This has always stymied me and I'd sure like to resolve it in my mind.


    AngelEyes
     
  12. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Many of the suggested sentence variants have changed the meaning of the original.

    —After this discovery everything looked different, because one could ask, why should a photon not sometimes be a photon plus an electron-positron pair and so on?—

    Unless that is punctuated incorrectly, because relates to one could ask, not to the why clause.
    The discovery is the reason the question may now be asked.
    Here is a slight change of wording:
    —After this discovery everything looked different. It had become possible to ask new questions: for example, why should a photon not sometimes be a photon plus an electron-positron pair?—

    That question, and similar questions, were impossible before the discovery that Heisenberg was referring to. Unfortunately the bit of my brain that once knew about Heisenberg, photons, positrons and electrons seems to have been left at school - so I don't know what the discovery could have been.
     
  13. AngelEyes Senior Member

    English - United States
    Okay, Panj, I see what you're saying.

    In this case, though, you can't take out that clause - as you stated before, I think - and have a rational sentence. Shouldn't you be able to?

    Or is it irrelevant that you have to add that semi-colon or re-write it the way you did to have it work without it?

    (Actually, I don't care for the original sentence to begin with.) :)





    AngelEyes
     
  14. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I don't like the original either, but you can't take out the clause between the commas. I think that's because they aren't "bracketing commas". One of them is serving as if it were a "quotation comma".
    LINK
     
  15. AngelEyes Senior Member

    English - United States
    Thanks again, Panj.

    That's a great site, even though it's British. ;) No, really, I'm going to keep that one; it's very informative.

    I was interested in the Listing Commas, which show you don't use a third comma before the conjunctions with lists.

    Over in the US, we call them "serial commas" and do.

    Example:
    I like dark chocolate ice cream, milk chocolate ice cream, and chocolate fudge ice cream. (I do.)



    I'm still confused as it applies to this thread, but that's okay. I'm going to let it go, because I know I'm veering off-topic now.


    AngelEyes
     
  16. replicante7

    replicante7 Senior Member

    Barcelona / Spain
    español Cuba
    You were right, Panjadrum: I was asking about the comma before why. :eek: Excuse me, please, I was writing in a hurry.
    Thanks for your explanation. Now I guess that I have understood.
    As you have pointed out, I can easily understand the sentence using
    because one could ask: "why bla, bla,..."
    And my question about the "no comma" is answered in this paragraph:
    This was precisely my "schema sentence".:D
    But I have just realized that I hadn't noticed before the ending question mark! :eek: This question mark explains why all the previous post had assumed the sentence was referring to a quotation.

    By the way, I guess that my "question mark blindness" was due to some kind of "Spanish expectation for the opening question mark (¿).;)
    Thanks a lot. You have helped me to see!:)
     
  17. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Urbana-Champaign, IL
    Am. English, Pal. Arabic (See profile)
    AngelEyes, just in case you're still not 100% why there should be no comma after because, it's because, as Panj said, the meaning would change:

    1. After this discovery everything looked different, because one could ask, why should a photon not sometimes be a photon plus an electron-positron pair and so on?

    Everything looked different because one was now able to ask...

    2. After this discovery everything looked different, because, one could ask, why should a photon not sometimes be a photon plus an electron-positron pair and so on?

    Everything looked different because why should a photon...

    a. The sentence now makes no sense.
    b. Using "because why" is colloquial and has no place in a scientific text.

    Compare: You should have known that I'd be there waiting for you because why would I just leave?

    The above sentence is very colloquial. In a formal setting, we would have to say/write something like "...because there would have been no reason for me to leave."

    Regarding the original question, Forero and River hit the nail on the head. Generally, a comma is required, but there's some flexibility. If the clause is short and a misreading is not possible, a comma is optional. But no matter how short the clause is, if a misreading is possible, a comma should be used.
     
  18. AngelEyes Senior Member

    English - United States

    Please, everyone do not throw frustrated spitballs at your screens. I'm just trying to see it clearly in my mind. It's debatable if I'm going to succeed.

    Elias, would you please tell me if this is how you'd write this variation of your above example?


    You should have known that I'd be there waiting for you because, you might ask, why would I just leave?


    Thank you...


    AngelEyes
     
  19. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Urbana-Champaign, IL
    Am. English, Pal. Arabic (See profile)
    Yes - if I felt the need to insert "you might ask."

    The point is that with commas around "you might ask" or "one could ask" or whatever the "why" clause becomes the writer's own words.

    ...because why would XXX?
    ...because I believe there is no reason that XXX.

    Without the commas the "why" clause is what "you" might ask (taking "you might ask" as an example). The writer's words begin at "you might ask," and the "why" clause states what you might ask.

    ...because you might ask XXX.
    ...because I believe that you might ask XXX.

    I agree with Panj, by the way, that in scenario 2 I would use quotation marks - which, if they had been used in the original sentence, would have eliminated a lot of confusion!
    Long live correct punctuation!
     
  20. AngelEyes Senior Member

    English - United States
    Thanks, elroy, for your explanation.





    AngelEyes
     
  21. EnglishTeacher6734 New Member

    English - American
    "After," "until," and other words like them can sometimes be used as prepositions (After this discovery) and sometimes be used as subordinate conjunctions (Until he noticed the handprint on the wall,). A prepositional phrase does NOT require a comma after it unless it is terribly long or if there are multiple phrases (After the experimental discovery of this Lamb shift,). However, an introductory subordinate clause (a clause has a subject and a verb) DOES require a comma to separate it from the main clause of the sentence (the independent clause).
     

Share This Page