comma with adjective [ambiguity?]: private, educational and capital

Discussion in 'English Only' started by GenJen54, Apr 18, 2006.

  1. GenJen54

    GenJen54 Senior Member

    Downright Pleasant, USA
    USA - English
    A co-worker and I are having a bit of a tussle regarding some wording on a brochure.

    The issue is between the two sentences below. One of us argues the comma is necessary. The other argues the comma is not necessary. I thought I would come to you for your unbiased opinions and expertise.

    Sentence One (with comma):

    The xxxx Foundation is an IRS-designated 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to providing private, educational and capital support to the xxxx xxxxx Performing Arts Center.

    Sentence Two (without comma):

    The xxxx Foundation is an IRS-designated 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to providing private educational and capital support to the xxxx xxxxx Performing Arts Center.

    What say you all?
     
  2. bartonig Senior Member

    UK English
    In private educational and capital support does private pre-modify support or educational? If it is the former I would punctuate as follows - private, educational and capital support, but if the latter I would use private educational and capital support.
     
  3. GenJen54

    GenJen54 Senior Member

    Downright Pleasant, USA
    USA - English
    It is supposed to modify both. The organization provides private support which is for educational and capital programs.
     
  4. maxiogee Senior Member

    imithe
    The comma implies that there are three types of support
    a) private
    b) educational
    and
    c) capital

    The one without the comma can be read to be providing only two, but I think I see your problem. Those two appear to be
    a) private educational
    and
    b) capital

    I gather that what the organization wishes to announce to the waiting world is that it provides both education and capital support, privately, to the xxxx xxxxx Performing Arts Center.
     
  5. Kelly B

    Kelly B Senior Member

    USA English
    If this is the case, there should be no comma, in my opinion.
    I wonder whether private may be eliminated entirely, or moved:
    is a private IRS-...
    ...is a ... private organization...
     
  6. bartonig Senior Member

    UK English
    Then use private educational and private capital support.
     
  7. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    England
    English (England)
    Yes - I agree. The comma would suggest it had the same force as educational and capital, not an adjective describing them.
     
  8. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    With the comma, the external reader would be confused.
    Without the comma, the external reader would hear private as applying to both educational and capital.
    What the linguistic purists would understand is a different matter altogether:D
     
  9. GenJen54

    GenJen54 Senior Member

    Downright Pleasant, USA
    USA - English
    Thank you all for your replies.

    For the record, my preference was for the no comma construction, but a co-worker insisted otherwise. Hopefully now she'll be convinced!
     
  10. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Urbana-Champaign, IL
    Am. English, Pal. Arabic (See profile)
    GenJen's explanation of what is intended in post 3 leaves no doubt as to the fact that if one had to choose between the two versions she gave (i.e. if one could not reword the sentence), the sentence without the comma would be the one to go with because it expresses what she wanted to say.

    However, I wish to quibble with one small technical misuse of grammatical terminology in some of the above posts - which I am certain does not reflect actual misunderstanding but might confuse future visitors.

    Some of you said or implied that in "private, educational and capital support" "private" modifies "support" but that in "private educational and capital support" it modifies "educational." Grammatically speaking, this is not a precise analysis. "Private" is an adjective that modifies "support" in both cases. "Educational" is another adjective, and it is impossible for an adjective to modify another adjective.

    The difference is that in "private, educational and capital support," the meaning is "private support, educational support and capital support," whereas in "private educational and capital support" the meaning is "educational support that is private, and capital support (that is private)." The part in parentheses would apply if "private" were meant to go with "capital support" as well (which is ambiguous). In no case, however, does "private" actually modify either of the other adjectives.

    Think of "a big, blue clock" and "a big grandfather clock." "Grandfather" is so inextricable from "clock" that "grandfather clock" pretty much functions like a compound noun (and that's why there's no comma between "big" and "grandfather"), but "grandfather" is still, grammatically speaking, an adjective, just like "big" and just like "blue." The same applies to "educational" and "capital" (one would not place a comma in "private educational support" because "educational" is more than just a superfluous description but both "educational" and "private" are adjectives modifying "support.")
     
  11. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    EEUU-inglés
    Let's all hope the readers of the brochure know a lot about the tax code. Why not just say non-profit?
     
  12. bartonig Senior Member

    UK English
    I cannot agree with this. In private educational and capital support private modifies educational in the same way that dark modifies blue in he broke the dark blue vase.
     
  13. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Urbana-Champaign, IL
    Am. English, Pal. Arabic (See profile)
    "Dark" is telling us something about "blue."
    "Private" is telling us something about the "support."

    GenJen said,

    So both "private" and "educational" are telling us something about the "support."
     
  14. nietzscha Junior Member

    Barcelona
    Catalan & Spanish
    Adjectives can modify adjectives.
    I would center the question more in the meaning of the sentence. Is there really a private educational support? Is it consistent for a support to be at the same time private, educational and capital? Wouldn't that be redundant?
    I think the best option to avoid the uncetrainty of this sentence woul be to say "capital and private educational support" which leaves it cristal clear, or if the meaning is the other (with coma) one could just leave the private out of everything as it is not adding an awfull lot of meaning to the sentence.
     
  15. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Urbana-Champaign, IL
    Am. English, Pal. Arabic (See profile)
    Since when? :eek:
    A word that modifies an adjective is by definition an adverb.
     
  16. nietzscha Junior Member

    Barcelona
    Catalan & Spanish
    Sure! But adjectives can also modify adjectives. Like the "the dark blue vase".
    I was told about that when I was 12. And I don't understand why people wouldn't get it. It can happen too, it is not so weird, it happen everyday, that is the way language is!!!!!! Some people say, that then, that adjective becomes an adverb, or that the adjective is acting as an adverb. It doesn't matter the way you say it, it so happens "the dark blue vase".
     
  17. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Urbana-Champaign, IL
    Am. English, Pal. Arabic (See profile)
    I am one of those people. :)

    There is nothing inherently adjectival about the word "dark."

    This sweater is dark. (adjective)
    This sweater is dark blue. (adverb)
    I am afraid of the dark. (noun)

    It is the function of the word in the sentence that tells us what part of speech it is.

    I think we're saying the same thing in different ways.
     
  18. nietzscha Junior Member

    Barcelona
    Catalan & Spanish
    Sure!!! Great!!!

    But there is indeed something in adjectives that make them adjectives, indeed! Adejctives can act as an adverd for other adjectives, but not for verbs. Real adverbs, words that are only adverbs, modify verbs (and not only in adjective sentences) or adjectives but not nouns, whereas real adjectives modify nouns, but not verbs (except in adjective senteces, using only verbs like to be, or to seem). That is the definition of an adverb: it modifies verbs!!!

    Seems confusing, specially in english, but in spanish it is quite clear, as the adjectives and adverbs usually have different endings and are very distinguible.
     
  19. elroy

    elroy Motley mod

    Urbana-Champaign, IL
    Am. English, Pal. Arabic (See profile)
    I think that may be the problem; you're basing your analysis on the way Spanish grammar works.

    In English what part of speech a word is is based solely on its function in the sentence. If a word happens to always function as an adjective, then you could safely say that it's an adjective even outside the context of a particular sentence, but that is still the result of its function, not of any innate qualities that the word has. In all other cases, you simply can't say what part of speech a word is unless you see it in a sentence.
     
  20. danielfranco

    danielfranco Senior Member

    This is my opinion as an beginner English-language student: I've re-read the options a few times, and it seems to me that without the comma they talk about private educational support and private capital support. With a comma it seems they talk about private support, educational support, and capital support.
     
  21. nietzscha Junior Member

    Barcelona
    Catalan & Spanish
    Anyway, the important thing is to have very clear what is the function of the word in each sentence, and I think we both have that clear enough ;)
     

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