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The following sentence comes from a well-versed person who gives tutorials on the IELTS test:

"Firstly, several parallels exist between Harry Potter and other fantasy series you likely have enjoyed. If you liked the setting of The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter will not disappoint you, as it takes place in a medieval world richly populated by both humans and other forms of intelligence life."

Can anyone illustrate the use of the second comma before "as"? Because I think it shouldn't be there.

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    Sometimes, commas are added because they make sense when spoken, not read. This seems to be the case here. It wouldn't be incorrect to omit the comma, but a speaker will often insert a slight pause at that point anyway. – Flater May 11 '17 at 7:13
  • You might add why you think it is wrong. I would use it because the phrase on each side has a different topic (impression of the movie vs. the movie scenario). – user3169 May 11 '17 at 20:18
  • Well, I think so because the subordinating conjunction "as" makes the clause "it takes place..." a dependent clause. So according to the rules of building a complex sentence, no comma is needed. (independent clause+dependent clause) (dependent clause+,+independent clause) – Alosh May 12 '17 at 12:26
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One possibility is that the comma is helping remove a potential ambiguity because "as" can have at least three different meanings here:

  1. Because. e.g. "I didn't give him a cookie as he'd already eaten forty-seven of them!"
  2. For as long as. e.g. "We told stories and sang songs as we drove to grandma's house."
  3. While. "We sat and watched the stars as the world turned beneath us."

The second and third are, of course, very similar in that they both denote one thing happening at the same time as another. The difference is a contextual one, but it is that 2 means the first thing happened at the same time as the second, but only at that time, whereas 3 suggests that the person concerned is merely noticing or commenting on the fact that the two things are happening together, but that in fact it's just a coincidence (or at least, of no significance given the context).

So, to the text you provided. Without the comma, the relevant portion is:

[The book] Harry Potter will not disappoint you as it takes place in a medieval world...

The corresponding three different ways of reading that are:

  1. The book won't disappoint you because the story it tells takes place in a medieval world (but had it taken place in a futuristic Star Trek-like world, or in a prehistoric dinosaur-filled world, then maybe it would disappoint you.)
  2. The book won't disappoint you for as long as it takes place in a medieval world (but mark my words, the second it stops taking place in such a world...well, then it'll be Disappointment City!)
  3. The book won't disappoint you, period. Oh, by the way, at the same time that it's not disappointing you, it'll be taking place in a medieval world. So, no-disappointment, and medieval setting, all in the same book. How cool is that!

The comma may be trying to emphasize that the meaning is 1, and not 2 or 3. Context would make it hard to actually make an error there, but maybe the person is just trying to make sure.

  • Great! Now I can understand where the author is coming from, but, one day, if I were the author, is it OK to sometimes break the comma rules for the sake of removing a potential ambiguity? – Alosh May 12 '17 at 12:45
  • I'd say yes. In general, the whole point of punctuation is to make meaning clear, and removing ambiguity (unless it's intentional) helps make meaning clear. So absolutely; if breaking a perceived rule helps clarify things, break away! – tkp May 13 '17 at 3:30

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