On My Soapbox

Margie Wakeman Wells The Comma 6 Comments

A discussion of this construction comes up about once a month. Is there or is there not a comma after “that” in the following sentence.

…I knew that, if I turned right, I’d get there sooner.

The sentence is “I knew that I’d get there sooner.”

“I knew” is the subject and verb of the sentence. “That I’d get there sooner” is a dependent clause that is a noun direct object.

In the middle of the noun clause — between “that” and “I’d get there sooner” — there is an adverb clause. An adverb clause that comes in the middle of what it modifies is surrounded by commas.

I am not sure how “I knew that” can be ignored and dismissed as “an expression.” It is the subject and verb for the sentence. It is not a throwaway. Since every word in every sentence with almost NO exceptions has a function in a sentence, we have to assign these words “I knew that” a function.

The word “that” is a pronoun that can point out something (as a demonstrative) or be a relative pronoun that begins a dependent clause. There is nothing else it can do in a sentence. In this sentence, it begins a dependent clause, “that I’d get there sooner.”

If “I knew,” in fact, are the subject of the sentence, then “if I turned right” cannot possibly be introductory since it does not begin an independent clause.

I know this rule from Gregg. I just don’t think there is any way that it matches the grammar of the sentence. You cannot just dismiss words in a sentence and call them “an expression.”

I would so like the authorities to back up their rules with a discussion of the grammar. I believe that all rules have to go along with the way English grammar works.

And with this explanation, I will let it go — until this comes up again. smile emoticon

 

I know this rule from Gregg. I just don’t think there is any way that it matches the grammar of the sentence. You cannot just dismiss words in a sentence and call them “an expression.”

Happy punctuating!

Margie

Comments 6

  1. Margie, you walk your talk: “I would so like the authorities to back up their rules with a discussion of the grammar. I believe that all rules have to go along with the way English grammar works.”

    As I started learning and using style guides for myself and later teaching punctuation, I was always frustrated by guides full of rules that tell *what* to do but say little about *why*.

    “Bad Grammar/Good Punctuation” changed things altogether by integrating the what with the why.

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      Author

      Thanks, Val. I am feeling pretty battered this week with so many who, one, want to just ignore rules and do whatever they want and, two, refuse to deal with what the grammar says. I fear that it spells the death of the language as you and I know it.

      Hope life is treating you well.

      Hugs.

      Margie

  2. I believe I understand this, but I have some questions out of curiosity. Since “if I turned right” is an adverb clause, I would assume that it modifies “knew.” Therefore, if the adverb clause was next to its modifier, it would be, “I knew if I turned right that I’d get there sooner.” Correct? Also, what rule in Gregg’s are you referencing? Thanks.

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      Author

      Adverbs clauses are punctuated based on their location in relation to what they modify. They belong at the end and have no punctuation at the end.

      …I’d get there sooner if I turned right.
      …She called when she got home.
      …I have little to say to him because he is so closed.

      When these same clauses are out in the front of the sentence, they take a comma after them.

      When an adverb clause comes in the middle of what it modifies — as it does in the original example …”that, if I turned right, I’d get there sooner… then it is surrounded by commas.

      Hope this helps.

      Margie

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