comma before present participle: She gets excited, biting her thumb.

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avbm

Member
Dutch - Holland
They say if you can put and between 2 words, then you should put a comma. Sow in the sentence below I should use a comma?

"She gets excited, biting her thumb."

Can someone show me some more examples, please?
 
  • Suspishio

    Senior Member
    English - England
    If you can say "and" between three or more words, then generally you can place a comma between all but the last word in the series.

    In the sentence you gave, neither the comma nor an "and" would make any sense.

    Looking at it another way, if you had said "She gets excited, turns red", it would have been wrong. The word "and" should replace the comma.
     

    bibliolept

    Senior Member
    AE, Español
    The sentence you quoted seems acceptable. I don't see any point, though, where you could insert a comma.

    YOu could write: "She gets excited and bites her thumb," which I would suggest has a slightly different meaning because it only lists the two actions, while one might think that there is more of a connection suggested between the two actions in the original sentence.
     

    mplsray

    Senior Member
    They say if you can put and between 2 words, then you should put a comma. Sow in the sentence below I should use a comma?

    "She gets excited, biting her thumb."

    Can someone show me some more examples, please?
    In the example given you cannot put and between the words excited and biting. :cross:"She gets excited and biting her thumb" is ungrammatical.

    "She gets excited, biting her thumb." would mean that as a result of being excited, she bites her thumb, while "She gets excited biting her thumb." would mean that the very act of biting her thumb excites her.
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    Welcome to the forum, Avbm.

    In a phrase like "a hurt, discouraged young man", you could insert an and either with no comma ("a hurt and discouraged young man") or with two ("a hurt, and discouraged, young man"). All of these refer to a hurt young man who is also a discouraged young man.

    Since "she" does not "get excited her thumb" or "get biting her thumb", the participles excited and biting in your sentence belong to separate phrases and cannot be connected by a coordinating conjunction such as and.
     
    Last edited by a moderator:

    avbm

    Member
    Dutch - Holland
    In the example given you cannot put and between the words excited and biting. :cross:"She gets excited and biting her thumb" is ungrammatical.
    That's indeed ungrammatical. What I meant was this: "She gets excited and bites her thumb."

    I can use "and" there. But if I don't want to use it, I can use a comma. I read that when you can put "and" you can use a comma.

    I want to say that she bites her thumb as a result of being excited. So a comma or "and" would mean the same, right?


    Thanks for all the help!
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    Yes, both mean the same, literally. There is a significant difference in the stylistic effect. With "and", the tone is like an ordinary report of someone's actions. Without and the actions pile up on one another; it is notable because unusual. Here it is more dramatic.
    She gets excited, bites her thumb.
    At other times the omission of and makes the sentence a list of perhaps customary actions:
    She fills the kettle, turns on the stove.
     

    burtonlang

    Member
    American English
    I think that if the biting is an effect of her being excited, then your original sentence, "She gets excited, biting her thumb" fits best. Participial phrases often imply some kind of cause or effect.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    In the example sentences where one action is separated from the next by a comma I am expecting a third.
    She gets excited, bites her thumb and phones her friend.
    She fills the kettle, turns on the stove and waits for the kettle to boil.
    They seem wrong, otherwise.
     

    timpeac

    Senior Member
    English (England)
    In the example sentences where one action is separated from the next by a comma I am expecting a third.
    She gets excited, bites her thumb and phones her friend.
    She fills the kettle, turns on the stove and waits for the kettle to boil.
    They seem wrong, otherwise.
    I agree with this and was thinking the same, more or less.

    But to me, using two does not seem wrong but definitely out of the usual - and would make a dramatic stylistic effect. I think this is because it gives a very immediate "story board" effect.

    Not something you would expect to hear, but perhaps read (but even then only rarely, or it would soon pall).
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    OK - I would accept using this structure deliberately for literary effect, but I wouldn't extend it to all situations and I'm concerned that this is what avbm is asking about, having read that we can use a comma to replace and.
    We can, in lists of characteristics, nouns or actions - but not usually the last and.

    Andy and Bill and Charlie and Dave and Eddie went to the party.
    Commas can be used in place of and - except for the last one.
    Andy, Bill, Charlie, Dave and Eddie went to the party.
    The last and should remain.

    Similarly with actions:
    She fills the kettle and turns on the stove and waits for the kettle to boil and pours hot water into her cup.
    Replacing all but the last and.
    She fills the kettle, turns on the stove, waits for the kettle to boil and pours hot water into her cup.
     

    burtonlang

    Member
    American English
    I know it's not universal, but I like to put a comma before the and, as in

    Andy, Bill, Charlie, Dave, and Eddie went to the party.

    In lists, I think that a comma should be replaced with and only when items are explicitly related.

    You should bring a salad, a desert, forks and knives, and napkins.
     

    panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    Yes, this rhetorical device should be used for literary effect, as was said above. It would be too conspicuous in ordinary writing.

    It is called asyndaton: "a stylistic scheme in which conjunctions are deliberately omitted from a series of related clauses", as the Wiki article puts it.
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    This device is not something to throw in on a whim, in my opinion. It needs to serve a purpose in context.

    In the right context, it can be used to advantage.
     
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    avbm

    Member
    Dutch - Holland
    Is the comma correct in the following sentences:

    Everybody is shocked, looking at her.

    We see him with his head on the steering wheel, unconscious, covered
    with glass and blood.

    They stand next to each other, holding their drinks.

    A broken Susan sits on the couch, wondering.
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    Everybody is shocked, looking at her.
    The comma is fine here. An and would not fit here because shocked is an adjective but looking at her is adverbial.

    We see him with his head on the steering wheel, unconscious, covered with glass and blood.
    These commas are fine, and and might replace the second comma but not the first because he is unconscious and covered with glass and blood but it is his head that is on the steering wheel.

    They stand next to each other, holding their drinks.
    And
    would not fit here, but the comma is fine.

    A broken Susan sits on the couch, wondering.
    This comma is fine, but and would not fit here.

     
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