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Website definition and example for context.

Use a comma near the end of a sentence to separate contrasted coordinate elements or to indicate a distinct pause or shift. Example provided:

The speaker seemed innocent, even gullible.

The speaker seemed innocent (complete sentence) with even gullible added on. But what about this example; is this the same usage?

It was what she feared losing the most, life.

The sentence: It was what she feared losing the most (is this dependent?)

Otherwise the rule is do not use the comma to separate a verb from its direct object; but you can use a colon or m-dash. I wasn’t sure if the sentence was independent or dependent.

As you could say:

She faced many fears, but death was the worst; it was what she feared losing the most.

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First of all, the comma is in most cases only a guide to where a speaker would pause during conversation. As you know, there are several punctuation marks that serve this purpose -- the comma, the colon, the ellipsis, the semicolon, the dash, and others -- and each has a different tone. The comma is a brief pause, the semicolon a longer pause, and the ellipsis a still longer pause. The tone of the colon and the dash vary slightly with context, although the dash is usually dramatic while the colon is didactic.

There is no defined rule when you should use one or the other. In the end, you choose based on your own personal writing style. Personally, I rarely use the semicolon, and have started to use the dash less often. I probably overuse the colon, but then I tend to lecture when I write.

My point is that you can't only use punctuation as your guide to the meaning of a sentence. You have to consider it as a whole.

In your first sentence, yes, "even gullible" is extra information added to the end of the sentence, after a short pause to indicate a rephrase. But the second sentence is different. "Life" refers back to the earlier existential "it", and is essential information. The sentence could have been phrased:

Life is what she feared losing the most.

but delaying this key detail to the end of the sentence is more dramatic. Another example:

It is what we want most in this world, pizza!

I think a dash here sounds better than a comma:

It is what we want most in this world -- pizza!

but this doesn't really change the meaning of the sentence, only its tone. Someone with a different writing style might prefer the comma or write the sentence in a way that they didn't feel obligated to use a dash.

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Someone with a deeper knowledge of grammar than I may also comment on this. In my opinion, the usage in the sentence:

The speaker seemed innocent, even gullible.

is not the same as in the next sentence:

It was what she feared losing the most, life.

In the first sentence the writer is contrasting innocence with gullibility. So, the speaker was not just innocent, he/she was gullible. In the second sentence, there is no such contrast. In fact, "It" at the beginning of the sentence refers to "death" at the end. You can't contrast two things that are the same.

Other than that, I see nothing wrong with the second sentence, although I would have preferred to see:

It was what she feared losing the most, her life.

or even

She most feared losing her life.

Of the three sentence, I mostly preferred the third, I think it builds up the tension better than the other two alternatives.

She faced many fears, but death was the worst; it was what she feared losing the most.

However, there is one small correction that needs to be made. She did not fear losing "death". I would suggest changing this to:

She faced many fears, but death was the worst; it was what she feared the most.

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