behind the counter, scraping his griddle [comma]


New Member
I was reading a novel, and I came across this sentence:

The cook was behind the counter, scraping his griddle with the edge of a spatula.

"scraping his griddle with the edge of a spatula", to me seems like a subordinate clause, so why is their a comma if its coming after the independent clause? Is it just for poetic effect? Am I misinterpreting a rule?

My understanding of comma usages are use them if the sentence starts with a subordinate clause, if a conjunction is present in between independent clauses, or if it's a non-restrictive element.
  • Copyright

    Senior Member
    American English
    I don't know the rules, so I go by feel and readability ... the main point is that he was behind the grill; the subordinate point is what he's doing there. Also the comma keeps the reader from thinking the cook was "behind the counter scraping" (and wondering what that might be before realizing the mistake and going back to reread the sentence).

    But I'm sure grammarian will help us both out here. :)


    Senior Member
    I don't know the rules either, and I'm no grammarian, but I try to learn about these things when I can, and then hope to remember at least some of it.

    The idea here seems to be this (essentially):

    When a relative clause follows a specific noun, punctuation changes. The information in the relative clause is no longer as important, and the clause becomes nonessential. Nonessential clauses require you to use commas to connect them. — The Subordinate Clause, on

    As an experienced line cook, I'd say this guy should not be using the edge of a spatula to scrape a grill.
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    Moderate Mod
    There are some rules regarding commas - but what you mostly have are guidelines that can be ignored at the writer's discretion. Also, "nonessential" is in the eye of the beholder. ;) The comma is there because the writer heard a pause after counter​ and he wanted readers to hear it too. I think it's as simple as that. The idea that you should put a comma where you pause is a very overused and abused one, but I don't think it's being abused here.
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    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    The second clause is long; you need to get your breath somewhere in the sentence, rather than saying the whole thing as one continuous intonation phrase. There aren't really any 'rules' for commas; it's much better to think of those as (mostly) corresponding to natural changes in intonation. It's unnecessary, and entirely optional, if the second clause was shorter:

    The cook was behind the counter, scraping his griddle.
    The cook was behind the counter scraping his griddle.

    Both these are quite natural ways of saying it.


    New Member
    Thanks a lot for clearing that up, I really do appreciate you guys doing that. All of you guys gave very informative answers, and I thank you for them.

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    The second "clause" isn't a clause at all - it has no finite verb. It's a descriptive phrase and a long enough one to need separating from the main clause. Copyright has the explanation in #2.
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