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Comma Placement Question

Hi,

I'm writing an email but just want to check if the commas are in the correct place on one of the sentences. The sentence I want to check is below.

Further to our recent discussions, please see attached letter, signed by our legal representative, requesting three new online accounts.

If my understanding is correct, the part before the first comma is a subordinate clause and the second part is a main clause (hence the separation with the first comma), and the third and fourth parts are inside commas because they're both subordinate clauses of which the only verbs are participles. It's the third and fourth parts that, to me, seem logically correct but for some reason don't quite look right.

Thanks for your help.

Comments

  • If this is a real email, @Mark_S, and if it's as serious as it looks, then why not divide it into two or three sentences?

    As it stands, it's a mixture of formal prose and a formula — please see attached letter — which doesn't observe the grammar I would expect in written prose. (It's the ZERO ARTICLE that feels out of place.)

    More generally, I don't think grammar is what determines punctuation. Yes, grammar defines the units which might be separated, but other things determine whether the separable units should be actually separated. If the separation of the third and fourth parts looks wrong to you, then it's presumably suggesting a separation that you don't really intend.

    If there were just two parts, then I think (and I think that you think) that separation would be unnecessary:

    a letter signed by our legal representative
    a letter requesting three new online accounts

    The problem is that the three parts add up to something longer and less easy for the reader to process without any help from punctuation:

    a letter signed by our legal representative requesting three new online accounts

    It's not immediately obvious that it's the letter rather than the legal representative that is making the request. Of course, the reader will work out what you mean, but the writer's job is to avoid giving the slightest difficulty or confusion to the reader. I think you need to separate requesting ... accounts either with a comma or (my preferred option) with and.

    a letter signed by our legal representative and requesting three new online accounts

  • Mark_SMark_S
    edited August 2018
    Thanks, @DavidCrosbie , you've been, as always, very helpful.
    You're correct in thinking that I think if there were just two parts the separation would be unnecessary. However, although I know that there are no rules as such in the English language, I thought that not separating a subordinate clause of which the only verb is a participle from a preceding main clause was considered incorrect?
  • DavidCrosbieDavidCrosbie ✭✭✭
    edited August 2018

    @Mark_S, I think you need to rethink what you mean by a subordinate clause.

    Firstly, I see no reason to call further to our recent discussion a clause. It's a perfectly normal prepositional phrase comprising a preposition and a noun phrase. There's no verb or anything verblike, and no similarity to clause structure.

    Now, while both signed by our legal representative and requesting three new online accounts can be described as non-finite clauses, They're not necessarily subordinate.

    In the two proposed components
    a letter signed by our legal representative
    a letter requesting three new online accounts
    the participle clauses have been absorbed into a noun phrase. Their function is best described not as one of subordination but as postmodification.

    This ties in with the best explanation I've seen of relative clauses.

    • In what has been called a defining or restrictive relative clause, a finite clause is absorbed into a noun phrase as postmodifier. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language uses the term integrated relative clause. I like this, as it defines it by syntax, not by semantics.

    • In what has been called a non-defining or non-restrictive relative clause, a finite clause is loosely related to a self-contained noun phrase. The Cambridge Grammar uses the term supplementary.

    As you know, the punctuation for the two types of relative clauses is different.

    • A defining/restrictive/integrated relative clause is not separated by commas.
    • A non-defining/non-restrictive/supplementary clause is separated by a preceding comma and (except at the end of the sentence where there's another mark) a comma at the end of the clause.

    It's not different with our non-finite clause examples. Both a letter signed by our legal representative and requesting three new online accounts seem to be integrated.

    But suppose you loosen the connection.
    I'd like you to send a letter today
    You'll learn our position shortly. I'm busy writing a letter

    In either case I'd say our non-finite participle clause would be supplementary, so I'd separate it with a comma:
    I'd like you to send a letter today, signed by our legal representative.
    I'd like you to send a letter today, requesting three new online accounts
    You'll learn our position shortly. I'm busy writing a letter, signed by our legal representative.
    You'll learn our position shortly. I'm busy writing a letter, requesting three new online accounts.

    This is rather subjective. You may not feel that a clause is loosely supplementary. OK, then don't have a comma.

    Possibly the trouble with your original sentence was that it was trying to integrate too much into the noun phrase. The combination of signed by our legal representative requesting three new online accounts is complicated not only in that there are two non-finite clauses, but that they are structurally dissimilar. If there were two -ed-clauses or two -ing-clauses, I think you might be happy linking them with and but without commas.

    a letter _signed by our legal representative and witnessed by a notary public
    a letter requesting three new online accounts and nominating the account-holders

    PS I've just thought that If I write
    I'm busy writing my next letter
    then you're more likely to agree with my feeling that the following clause is supplementary.

  • @Mark_S, I think you need to rethink what you mean by a subordinate clause.

    Firstly, I see no reason to call further to our recent discussion a clause. It's a perfectly normal prepositional phrase comprising a preposition and a noun phrase. There's no verb or anything verblike, and no similarity to clause structure.

    Now, while both signed by our legal representative and requesting three new online accounts can be described as non-finite clauses, They're not necessarily subordinate.

    In the two proposed components
    a letter signed by our legal representative
    a letter requesting three new online accounts
    the participle clauses have been absorbed into a noun phrase. Their function is best described not as one of subordination but as postmodification.

    This ties in with the best explanation I've seen of relative clauses.

    • In what has been called a defining or restrictive relative clause, a finite clause is absorbed into a noun phrase as postmodifier. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language uses the term integrated relative clause. I like this, as it defines it by syntax, not by semantics.

    • In what has been called a non-defining or non-restrictive relative clause, a finite clause is loosely related to a self-contained noun phrase. The Cambridge Grammar uses the term supplementary.

    As you know, the punctuation for the two types of relative clauses is different.

    • A defining/restrictive/integrated relative clause is not separated by commas.
    • A non-defining/non-restrictive/supplementary clause is separated by a preceding comma and (except at the end of the sentence where there's another mark) a comma at the end of the clause.

    It's not different with our non-finite clause examples. Both a letter signed by our legal representative and requesting three new online accounts seem to be integrated.

    But suppose you loosen the connection.
    I'd like you to send a letter today
    You'll learn our position shortly. I'm busy writing a letter

    In either case I'd say our non-finite participle clause would be supplementary, so I'd separate it with a comma:
    I'd like you to send a letter today, signed by our legal representative.
    I'd like you to send a letter today, requesting three new online accounts
    You'll learn our position shortly. I'm busy writing a letter, signed by our legal representative.
    You'll learn our position shortly. I'm busy writing a letter, requesting three new online accounts.

    This is rather subjective. You may not feel that a clause is loosely supplementary. OK, then don't have a comma.

    Possibly the trouble with your original sentence was that it was trying to integrate too much into the noun phrase. The combination of signed by our legal representative requesting three new online accounts is complicated not only in that there are two non-finite clauses, but that they are structurally dissimilar. If there were two -ed-clauses or two -ing-clauses, I think you might be happy linking them with and but without commas.

    a letter _signed by our legal representative and witnessed by a notary public
    a letter requesting three new online accounts and nominating the account-holders

    PS I've just thought that If I write
    I'm busy writing my next letter
    then you're more likely to agree with my feeling that the following clause is supplementary.

    Thanks, @DavidCrosbie , for taking the time to write such a detailed reply - you've certainly given me plenty to think about. I definitely need to do some more reading on punctuation in addition to the information that you've provided.

  • @Mark_S, my favourite is Making a Point by David Crystal.

  • @Mark_S, my favourite is Making a Point by David Crystal.

    Thanks for the recommendation, @DavidCrosbie , I've just ordered it online.
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