a. They threw me in a cage like an animal.

b. They threw me in a cage, like an animal.

c. They threw me in a cage as they would an animal.

d. They threw me in a cage, as they would an animal.

The idea is not that they threw me in a cage in the manner they would throw an animal in a cage. The idea is that they threw me in a cage and that is what is done to animals.

Are the commas correct?

Are the commas necessary?

  • 2
    The first one seems to be more natural to me. – Maulik V Jun 13 at 5:02
  • 1
    The first is definitely my choice. You don't need any commas here. – SovereignSun Jun 13 at 5:37
  • 1
    Since you are asking about the commas, why do you think they are possibly needed? – user3169 Jun 13 at 5:46
  • RE: The idea is not that they threw me in a cage in the manner they would throw an animal in a cage. Sorry, but that's how I interpret both a and b – either with a comma or with no comma. – J.R. Jun 13 at 9:22
  • "They caged me like an animal." You lose the "threw" action and all that goes with it but it would avoid the possible confusion that you are concerned with. – JeffC Jun 13 at 16:58

a. They threw me in a cage like an animal.

Is just fine. Brief, to the point, not a lot of room for the reader to get the wrong message.
The others are still OK, but progressively less to the point.

Even though there is potential for confusion of intent, the overall imagery is simple enough to grasp at first read. Whether the reader considers the throwing to be animalistic or the act of caging is actually a bonus - you can mean both without hurting the sentence. Two for the price of one, you are conveying meaning about the captors & captive.

The sentence reads so naturally, that you would only hesitate if it had a 'surprise' ending...

They threw me in a cage like a box.

ahhh... right.
Now we're describing the cage, rather than how a postal worker would handle a package.
The original sentence is clear enough to avoid this type of mis-communication.

  • There is some uncertainty in that sentence. It would be clear if the options weren't plausible. "He ate his meal without cutlery, or even hands, like an animal." The metaphorical animal is clearly the eater, not the hands or cutlery. "He kicked me like a dog", the dog is the kickee, not the kicker. "He threw a stuffed toy at me, like an animal." The toy is like an animal. In this sentence, however, it could be referring to animals in cages, or to the one doing the throwing, being barbaric. – AJFaraday Jun 13 at 10:59
  • "Time flies like an arrow"/"Fruit flies like a banana" we can't even rely on grammar to disambiguate between parts of speech let alone the relationships between terms, but context usually does it. – Pete Kirkham Jun 13 at 13:28
  • Reminds me of ell.stackexchange.com/questions/167956/… but the distinction here is less vital – Tetsujin Jun 13 at 13:30
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    @AJFaraday The original question is subtler than this. It does not suggest that the one who throws is like an animal. It distinguishes whether (1) different things are thrown in different ways, and I was thrown in the way an animal is thrown, or (2) animals are thrown and people are not, but like an animal I was thrown. – Chaim Jun 13 at 13:46

The comma can be used to introduce a pause in the sentence. If the narrator only intended to say the first half at first, but then adds the second as an afterthought. In cases like that, you can even find

They threw me in a cage. Like an animal.

in literature.
Take note though that this would only occur if you want to emulate speech. It would not be correct if this was a sentence in something the protagonist was writing.

The first one seems to be correct but its meaning is not what you want indeed.

They threw me in a cage like an animal.

The bold part is a prepositional phrase and refers to "throw" by indicating how that action is performed.

That sentence grammatically means:

They threw me in a cage and it made their action like an animal behaviour. Animals just do that, not humans.

So, if you want "like an animal" to indicate that the person thrown in a cage felt like an animal, then you can say:

They threw me in a cage as if I was an animal.

They threw me in a cage making me feel like an animal.

  • 1
    I think the meaning is as intended. If animal referred to the throwers, then the sentence would read They threw me in a cage like animals, which does not make much sense, of course. OPs 1st option does, in fact, convey the meaning that the author was treated like an animal. – Ian Jun 13 at 11:39
  • 1
    Pedantic grammar remark: Your first example should use the subjunctive. "They threw me in a cage as if I were an animal." – James Webster Jun 13 at 14:07
  • 1
    @JamesWebster Formally, yes. In less formal English, was and were have been in competition for irrealis uses for hundreds of years, and was is perfectly grammatical. See The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, p.86. – snailboat Jun 13 at 17:08

They threw me in a cage like an animal.

I read the above as they are treating you like an animal by putting you in a cage.

vs

They threw me, as one would an animal, into a cage.

The method they put you in the cage was how one would throw an animal, not a human. I would also describe the type of animal.

a wild animal
a rabid dog

since certain animals are treated differently than others

The necessity of a comma in these situations is often said to be dependent on whether the demarcated part of the sentence is necessary for understanding the meaning of the main parts of speech in sentence (i.e. the subject or verb). Necessity of a comma in a case like this might be decided by whether the speaker feels the manner in which he or she was thrown into a cage was remarkably different from how one might throw anything other than an animal into a cage.

To me, this is a grey area with these examples, and the variety of answers and comments leads me to think there is no real consensus among native English speakers about whether the commas would be strictly necessary, or whether their inclusion would be strictly incorrect. My impression of a common view is that they are neither necessary nor incorrect - in general.

I consider all four examples in the original question to be correct forms, and it could be helpful to read all answers and comments here to get an idea of how they might be prioritized in different circumstances. Fundamentally I agree with Tetsujin's answer, but I wanted to flesh out my thoughts in a longer form than comments allow.

protected by Community Jun 13 at 17:40

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