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tko
05-22-2012, 07:51 PM
Having a hard time getting into this comma usage article from the NYC. Since it may or may not be behind a firewall, I quoted part of it for your comments.

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/21/the-most-comma-mistakes/

quote:

I went to see the movie, “Midnight in Paris” with my friend, Jessie.

Comma after “movie,” comma after “friend” and, sometimes, comma after “Paris” as well. None is correct — unless “Midnight in Paris” is the only movie in the world and Jessie is the writer’s only friend. Otherwise, the punctuation should be:


I went to see the movie “Midnight in Paris” with my friend Jessie.

If that seems wrong or weird or anything short of clearly right, bear with me a minute and take a look at another correct sentence:


I went to see Woody Allen’s latest movie, “Midnight in Paris,” with my oldest friend, Jessie.


You need a comma after “movie” because this and only this is Mr. Allen’s newest movie in theaters, and after “Jessie” because she and only she is the writer’s oldest friend.


end quote


Not only does the above article confuse my engineering mind (what does a comma have to do with how unique the identifier is?), but it seems to conflict with other articles. Plus, there IS only one "Midnight in Paris" movie, so it is unique, and should have a comma by their own reasoning.


http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/607/05/

Rule: Use commas before and after nonessential words, phrases, and clauses, that is, elements embedded in the sentence that interrupt it without changing the essential meaning.


I went to see the movie, “Midnight in Paris” with my friend, Jessie.

I went to see the movie, “Midnight in Paris” with my friend.

Since Jessie isn't essential, shouldn't there be a comma before the name?

Snick
05-22-2012, 08:10 PM
I agree with you. There should be a comma after "Paris".

Jamesaritchie
05-22-2012, 08:26 PM
They got it right. A comma is all about unique identifiers.

Really, print the New York Times article. It's gets everything right.

Terie
05-22-2012, 08:28 PM
Since Jessie isn't essential, shouldn't there be a comma before the name?]

No, the article is correct. The name of the friend shouldn't be offset with a comma.


I agree with you. There should be a comma after "Paris".

No, the article is correct. The movie title shouldn't be offset with commas at all.

There are many times when commas are optional, and personally, I tend to chose to use optional commas. I think they help with clarity.

And in neither of these cases is a comma required or even optional.

J.W. Alden
05-22-2012, 09:23 PM
Related:

Anyone else get really mad at their elementary/high school teachers on a regular basis in later life? ;)

benbradley
05-22-2012, 09:36 PM
This sentence seems a bit confusing, and IMHO is a bad example, because it contains TWO examples of commas used to offset (that's my word for it) inessential phrases.

Let's see if I can take them one at a time. In writing this I've generated a few examples that aren't in the original article.

There's also the "essential meaning" of a sentence that may need to be defined. In regard to these sentences, the essential parts specify the actions and which nouns the actions happen to. Naming the noun may specify which noun, or it may be specified in another way (in which case naming is redundant).

The question is whether the added phrase changes the meaning of the sentence. Let's take the friend part first:

I went to see the movie “Midnight in Paris” with my friend Jessie.

The name Jesse tells which friend, and the reader wouldn't know which friend without the name (we're assuming the writer has more than one friend).

I went to see the movie “Midnight in Paris” with my oldest friend, Jessie.

In this case the phrase "oldest friend" specifies which friend. Adding the name doesn't specify any further (it provides extra information about the friend, but in this case it doesn't do anything to change the meaning of the sentence - it's the same friend whether named or not), so the name is inessential and gets a comma (or stuck between two commas if it's in the middle of a sentence).

Now about the movie and the title:

I went to see Woody Allen’s latest movie, “Midnight in Paris,” with my oldest friend, Jessie.

The words "Woody Allen's latest movie" identifies the movie completely, and the title is just added information. The sentence says the same thing, telling which movie, without the title being mentioned:

I went to see Woody Allen’s latest movie with my oldest friend, Jessie.

(And yes, Woody Allen might have made a newer movie since the sentence was written, but readers will read the sentence as being relevant at the time the writer wrote it, and the movie at that time is the one that applies.)

Without the word "latest" the title needs to be there to specify which movie, so the title alone doesn't have commas around it:

I went to see the Woody Allen movie “Midnight in Paris” with my oldest friend, Jessie.

In the larger sentence you can make the title the essential part and the "latest movie" part inessential, and that part gets offset by commas:
I went to see “Midnight in Paris,” Woody Allen’s latest movie, with my oldest friend, Jessie.

If you leave both the title and "latest movie" out (and change 'the' to 'a' to reflect the fact that there's more than one Woody Allen movie), you see that this is a different sentence and does not convey the same information as the sentences above:

I went to see a Woody Allen movie with my oldest friend, Jessie.

This is sentence is "different" because you could have gone to ANY Woody Allen movie, but saying "latest movie" OR giving the title specifies the movie. When you say both "Woody Allen's latest movie" AND give the title, one of them needs to have commas around it, because they're both saying the same thing, and one of them is inessential.

benbradley
05-22-2012, 09:48 PM
Here's a couple of thing that bother me:

I went to see the movie, “Midnight in Paris” with my friend, Jessie.
This sentence is wrong - you don't put a single comma before the title. It either has no comma or a comma before AND a comma afterward. Since this sentence needs the title to specify the movie, you do NOT put commas around the title.

The comma before Jessie might be arguable - if Jessie IS the writer's only friend then the name is redundant to the "essential meaning" of the sentence and the comma needs to be there, otherwise it should not be there.

You need a comma after “movie” because this and only this is Mr. Allen’s newest movie in theaters, and after “Jessie” because she and only she is the writer’s oldest friend.
I think that sentence from the article is confusing, even if it gives the right conclusion. I might suggest aspplying a little bit of brain bleach or mental white-out to this sentence.

I stand by my own explanation that these other things are redundant to the meaning of the sentence, and that's why they are offset by commas.

brianjanuary
05-24-2012, 05:10 PM
The words "movie" and "Midnight in Paris" together constitute a single noun, so there should be no commas at all.

Lissibith
05-26-2012, 05:59 PM
Yeah, agreeing with BenBradley. The rule of thumb we use at every newsroom I've ever worked in is, can you remove the set-off information without changing the meaning? if not, then the commas need to go (unless they're serving some other function, but normally those are more obvious)

veronie
05-30-2012, 07:20 AM
Let me explain it this way. Commas can be used to surround words or phrases that are sort of side thoughts (asides) in a sentence.

My mom, Susan, came over for a visit.

See how the name of my mom is almost like a side thought? It's surrounded by the commas because it's considered non-essential (also called non-restrictive, but don't let that confuse you).

Let me give another example, and then I'll try to clarify where I think you got confused on this issue.

My friend Jake came over for a visit.

Why isn't Jake surrounded by commas? Because it's an essential clause.

Now here's where you got confused. It's not that "Jake" is essential to the STRUCTURE of the sentence. (You could delete Jake and the sentence structure reads just fine.) Rather, it's essential as a definer of the word it modifies -- "friend." Without the word "Jake," "friend" becomes more abstract. It loses particular meaning. Which friend is it? It could be any friend. Let me put the two sentences side-by-side and you will see what I mean.

My friend Jake came over for a visit.

My friend came over for a visit.

In other words, and this is important, without that ESSENTIAL modifier, the MEANING OF THE SENTENCE CHANGES. Not drastically, but we lose information. The friend was a particular friend, but now it becomes a generic friend.

Now, if you're dealing with a NON-ESSENTIAL clause, then you can remove it, and the meaning of the sentence DOES NOT change. Those kinds of non-essential clauses get commas around them to show that they are asides and can be taken out without changing, or losing, meaning in the sentence.

My mom, Susan, came over for a visit.

My mom came over for a visit.

See how when you take out the non-essential clause, the meaning does not change because I only have one mom in the whole world. Giving her name does not tell you which mom I'm talking about, because there aren't more than one that I could possible be talking about. Her name is non-essential as a definer of "my mom."

Hope that helps.

DiaGram
05-31-2012, 11:02 AM
http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/21/the-most-comma-mistakes/

quote:

I went to see the movie, “Midnight in Paris” with my friend, Jessie.

Comma after “movie,” comma after “friend” and, sometimes, comma after “Paris” as well. None is correct — unless “Midnight in Paris” is the only movie in the world and Jessie is the writer’s only friend. Otherwise, the punctuation should be:


I went to see the movie “Midnight in Paris” with my friend Jessie.

If that seems wrong or weird or anything short of clearly right, bear with me a minute and take a look at another correct sentence:


I went to see Woody Allen’s latest movie, “Midnight in Paris,” with my oldest friend, Jessie.


You need a comma after “movie” because this and only this is Mr. Allen’s newest movie in theaters, and after “Jessie” because she and only she is the writer’s oldest friend.


end quote


Taking the first version of the sentence and removing all of the commas, we have

"I went to see the movie "Midnight in Paris" with my friend Jessie."

Here it might also be helpful to look at Purdue OWL's section on appositives (http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/596/1/).
Since it's "the" movie, not "a" move, it is implied that it matters which movie the two saw. That makes "Midnight in Paris" "essential" information, which means no commas are necessary.
Moving on to "my friend Jessie", the article gets it right again. Just saying "my friend" is too general; adding the name could significantly alter the meaning. For example, going to see that movie with Jessie could be very different than seeing it with Brad or Alicia (or whatever you want to call the speaker's other hypothetical friends). At any rate, Jessie is important enough to not be cut off from the rest of the sentence by a comma.

Addressing your question regarding the relation of a comma to the uniqueness of an identifier, I would wager a guess that it's a way of keeping the body of the sentence organized. If the identifier is already specific enough (as in the case of "my oldest friend"), additional information that doesn't add much useful meaning to the sentence is packed away in between commas in order to help you realize what's really important.

Kathleen_
05-31-2012, 04:23 PM
Related:

Anyone else get really mad at their elementary/high school teachers on a regular basis in later life? ;)

Quoted for the truth, with one exception. The one that undertook to teach us grammar once a week until the head of the department found out and put an end to it. *sigh*