comma question

This is the place to post questions and discussions on usage and style. The members of the Wordwizard Clubhouse will also often be able to help you to formulate that difficult letter.
Post Reply

comma question

Post by navi » Fri Aug 25, 2017 10:05 am

1) Say hello to Pete and to Tom, if you feel like it.
2) Say hello to Pete and to Tom if you feel like it.

3) Say hello to Pete, and to Tom, if you feel like it.
4) Say hello to Pete, and to Tom if you feel like it.

In which case:
a) 'if you feel like it' applies both to 'say hello to Pete'
and to 'say hello to Tom'
and in which case:
b) it applies only to 'say hello to Tom'?

Gratefully,
Navi.
Post actions:

Re: comma question

Post by Bobinwales » Sat Aug 26, 2017 9:28 pm

I have to admit to having difficulty in imagining the circumstances when such comments would be needed.
Post actions:
Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales

Re: comma question

Post by tony h » Sat Aug 26, 2017 11:01 pm

Navi, you tend to ask quite detailed questions and I often read them and think that my brain doesn't want to spend that much time on them. It, my brain, also suspects that you already know, or nearly know, the answer. In which case it would simplify answering your questions if, for this type of question, they were structured thus:

Am I right in thinking that for the following groups:
a) 'if you feel like it' applies both to 'say hello to Pete' and to 'say hello to Tom'
1) Say hello to Pete and to Tom, if you feel like it.
2) Say hello to Pete and to Tom if you feel like it.

b) it applies only to 'say hello to Tom'?
3) Say hello to Pete, and to Tom, if you feel like it.
4) Say hello to Pete, and to Tom if you feel like it.

Gratefully,

To which I would reply: you are right although there is some slight ambiguity over Pete in 3
Post actions:
Signature: tony

With the right context almost anything can sound appropriate.

Re: comma question

Post by navi » Sun Aug 27, 2017 4:14 am

Thank you both very much. I appreciate it.

Tony, you overestimate me to some extent, but you are not entirely wrong and you definitely do have a point. I generally have an assumption about the question I am asking. Henceforth, I shall make the assumption explicit. I think that in certain cases I will be wrong, or at least slightly off the mark.

Gratefully,
Navi.
Post actions:

Re: comma question

Post by trolley » Mon Aug 28, 2017 12:19 am

I always try (and often miss) to say exactly what I mean. The road to Hell is paved with ambiguities that could or should have been avoided.
Post actions:

Re: comma question

Post by BonnieL » Wed Aug 30, 2017 4:01 pm

I can't imagine using any of those sentences. What's the context? Are you introducing someone at a gathering? Pointing to someone across the room? Or wanting to be remembered to someone who isn't there (as in: Say hey to Pete & Tom when you see them.)?
Post actions:

Re: comma question

Post by tony h » Wed Aug 30, 2017 9:45 pm

BonnieL wrote:
Wed Aug 30, 2017 4:01 pm
I can't imagine using any of those sentences. What's the context? Are you introducing someone at a gathering? Pointing to someone across the room? Or wanting to be remembered to someone who isn't there (as in: Say hey to Pete & Tom when you see them.)?

Petra had gone round to her mother's for dinner. Her husband David was preparing to go to a conference. Petra had met David through her brother Pete who had been at university with him and that louse Tom. Tom had been her first love but it all went wrong when he stood her up at the alter. It was a year after that date that Tom had written to say that he is a homosexual and he was only marrying her to please his parents. Tom hoped Petra would forgive him and he was moving to America.

Petra was upstairs saying goodnight to the children and that Grannie would be up in a moment.
"Hello David", Petra's mother answered the phone.
"Petra. David's on the phone. He says that Pete and Tom's names are on the attendee list for the conference."
Petra picked up the phone, "Hello darling ... yes mum said ... Say hello to Pete, and to Tom if you feel like it. Give them a hug from me".


BonnieL, does this work for context?
Post actions:
Signature: tony

With the right context almost anything can sound appropriate.

Re: comma question

Post by Phil White » Thu Aug 31, 2017 2:19 pm

I think your underlying question would be better answered with different examples. Something like:

a. "Let's have a meal and go to the cinema if you want."
b. "Let's have a meal, and go to the cinema if you want."

Punctuation is only ever a poor representation of the way we intonate an utterance when we speak it. The comma in sentence b indicates the pause we would use in speech to show that the second item in the list is an "optional extra". Sentence a suggests that we should do both things, namely have a meal and go to the cinema. Sentence b suggests that we should definitely go for a meal and possibly go to the cinema if the person being addressed wishes to do so.

But these examples, and the examples you attempted to construct, are very much spoken English. In formal writing, we tend to resolve such ambiguities far more explicitly.

If I were suggesting the same thing in a letter or even an email, I would probably write something like "Let's go for a meal, and then perhaps we could go to the cinema if you want."

Many of the questions you pose suffer from this problem. The examples you give are from spoken English, and they only become ambiguous when they are written down, because the intonation of the utterance is lost. We can sometimes resolve this by punctuation or other methods, but if we were writing the utterance in the first place, we would simply avoid the ambiguity entirely.
Post actions:
Signature: Phil White
Non sum felix lepus

End of topic.
Post Reply