If you don’t know, go to the experts

I have weaknesses as a copy editor. One of them is the use of commas. One good thing about knowing this is that I also know I can turn to expert when I am stumped.

Just today I had to look up how to use commas in this sentence:

ARSC Chairman Michael Brand said in a statement that after reviewing the 92 comment letters ARSC received on the proposed standards, “two primary concerns came through very clearly.”

I read “after reviewing the 92 comment letters ARSC received on the proposed standards” as an interrupting phrase and put a comma after that to set it off. The core of the sentence, I thought, was “ARSC Chairman Michael Brand said in a statement that ‘two primary concerns came through very clearly.’ ” So it seemed to me that I needed a comma after that as shown below.

ARSC Chairman Michael Brand said in a statement that, after reviewing the 92 comment letters ARSC received on the proposed standards, “two primary concerns came through very clearly.”

But my choice nagged me, so I checked the Gregg Reference Manual by William A. Sabin. The 10th edition has about 30 pages’ worth of comma rules and advice. Gregg says that in sentences introduced with “[Subject] said that” followed by a dependent clause, we don’t need the comma after that because the whole construction is an introductory element. [Section 130d]

The clause “after reviewing the 92 comment letters ARSC received on the proposed standards,” by the way, is an elliptical clause — some of the words have been omitted.

I don’t think the extra comma I inserted hurts the understanding of the sentence, but I will resist the urge to add a comma when I see that construction. And I am grateful that I know where I can get good punctuation advice.

 

 

2 Responses to “If you don’t know, go to the experts”

  1. Tammy

    I would have put a comma in the same place you did in the example. I am constantly amazed at how complex the English language can be. Thank you for showing how the manual would be used; I have often been intimidated by those thick books filled with such specificity using terms I am only now starting to understand.

  2. Jenni Lukac

    I’m a Spanish-to English translator as well as a copy editor. As many Spanish writers pack their sentences with a never-ending series of clauses (with no regard whatsoever for syntax), I often find myself debating the same question. Keep the good advice coming. I really appreciated this entry.