The subordinate phrase.


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  1. #1

    The subordinate phrase.

    I am certainly not the world's punctuation expert, but I am trying to improve. This seems right to me.

    The subordinate phrase is one that can be taken out of the sentence and will leave behind a complete sentence.
    “Writers, who use subordinate phases all the time, often have trouble with their commas.” Put a comma each end of the subordinate phrase.
    Take it out and you have a sentence still.
    “Writers often have trouble with their commas.”

    On the other hand the phrase may not be subordinate. In the above example I am saying using subordinate phrases is an attribute of all writers. If I leave out the commas the phrase becomes part of the sentence.
    “Writers who use subordinate phrases all the time often have trouble with their commas.”
    Now I am talking about a select group of writers, those who use subordinate phrases a lot.

    To sum up,
    A subordinate phrase takes a comma each end of it.
    Removing it must leave a complete sentence, sometimes it is easy to leave an odd word out of the commas.
    Be sure it is subordinate and not part of the sentence.
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  2. #2
    Global Moderator Squalid Glass's Avatar
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    If you contain “who use subordinate phrases all the time” with commas and place the phrase right after “writers,” the phrase acts as a nonrestrictive appositive. It’s a wired construction, though.

    My students struggle with these rules all the time, and sometimes what is restrictive and nonrestrictive can be a subjective call.
    "I don't do anything with my life except romanticize and decay with indecision."

    "America I've given you all and now I'm nothing."

  3. #3
    'non-restrictive appositive' was new to me.
    Appositive, something that identifies a group
    non-restrictive, the group is general.

    So leave off the commas and it becomes a restrictive appositive. Restrictive because it is only some of the appositive; only writers who use lots of subordinate phrases.

    For simplicity I would look at the sentence that is left when you take out the subordinate phrase. "Writers often have trouble with their commas." That is obviously writers generally, not a restricted section of them.
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    Global Moderator Squalid Glass's Avatar
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    If you don’t include the commas, it’s more of a noun phrase: “Writers who use subordinate phrases all the time” often have trouble with their commas. The commas create a different function for the phrase “who use subordinate phrases all the time.” With commas, it’s nonrestrictive; without commas, it’s attached to the noun.
    "I don't do anything with my life except romanticize and decay with indecision."

    "America I've given you all and now I'm nothing."

  5. #5
    Patron Foxee's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Squalid Glass View Post
    If you contain “who use subordinate phrases all the time” with commas and place the phrase right after “writers,” the phrase acts as a nonrestrictive appositive.
    I'm learning things here, had to look up 'nonrestrictive appositive' and got this:
    An appositive noun or phrase is nonrestrictive (also called nonessential) if we know exactly who the writer is referring to when the appositive is removed. Nonrestrictive appositives simply add extra information, and they need commas around them.

    And that made me think of this:

    Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

    Just thinking...a lot of such nonrestrictive or nonessential information will probably get cut later anyway.

    It’s a wired construction, though.
    What does this mean?

  6. #6
    A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts.
    I don't disagree with the opening statements in general circumstances, there are always particular cases, but the logic is somewhat circular. You don't do it here because you don't do something similar there.
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  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Olly Buckle View Post
    I don't disagree with the opening statements in general circumstances, there are always particular cases, but the logic is somewhat circular. You don't do it here because you don't do something similar there.
    I agree. Surely there are forms of writing, such as some types of humour, that rely on a convoluted style for comic effect?

  8. #8
    Global Moderator Squalid Glass's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Foxee View Post
    I'm learning things here, had to look up 'nonrestrictive appositive' and got this:
    An appositive noun or phrase is nonrestrictive (also called nonessential) if we know exactly who the writer is referring to when the appositive is removed. Nonrestrictive appositives simply add extra information, and they need commas around them.

    And that made me think of this:

    Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

    Just thinking...a lot of such nonrestrictive or nonessential information will probably get cut later anyway.


    What does this mean?
    It's just weird because of the content if you include the nonrestrictive appositive. Like, it's a weird thing to add after "writers." It's almost like saying "Han Solo, who often breathes, is cool." It's a seemingly random thing to throw into a sentence like this. If you were to include it in a passage, I would break it up into two sentences. "Writers often use subordinate phrases. They also struggle with commas."
    "I don't do anything with my life except romanticize and decay with indecision."

    "America I've given you all and now I'm nothing."

  9. #9
    I had wondered about 'a wired construction' myself. I see what you mean now, it is probably because it is an artificial construct of mine to illustrate the idea. I intend moving on to other uses of commas, as much for my benefit as for others. When I was at college I had a mate whose father was a bricklayer, an intelligent man who was completely uneducated. My friend would say if there was something he didn't understand fully he would imagine explaining it to his dad, 'Take your time and you can explain anything in simple words, you just need a lot more of them.' It is a good exercise in understanding, and hopefully some others might benefit as well.
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  10. #10
    Global Moderator Squalid Glass's Avatar
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    My favorite comma conundrum: How would one punctuate the following construction: Independent clause/fanboy conjunction/parenthetical phrase/independent clause.
    "I don't do anything with my life except romanticize and decay with indecision."

    "America I've given you all and now I'm nothing."

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