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According to Sautter (1980), authorities feared that the end of the war would leave thousands of workers from the weapons industries [,] and at least half a million “demobilized” soldiers [,] out of work and out on the streets.

I am wondering if the commas in the 3rd brackets are correctly placed, if they are even needed in the first place. A simple version should look like this:

According to Sautter (1980), authorities feared that the end of the war would leave thousands of workers out of work and out on the streets.

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    The commas are not necessary but they make the text easier to read. Removing "from the weapons industries and at least half a million demobilized soldiers" does significantly change the meaning, though. – JavaLatte Aug 25 '18 at 4:51
  • Yep I know that changes the meaning I only gave that to convey the kind of sentence I am trying to put together. Usually, the first comma in [] should not be there with a conjunction. I am really not sure here. – AIQ Aug 25 '18 at 5:19
  • It is true that there are rules about placing a single comma after a conjunction, but there are also rules about pairs of commas surrounding additional information (Rule 3b) . A pair of commas, as in your example, identifies additional information. (Rule 5). You will find the explanations for the usage of the commas in these two sentences here: grammarbook.com/punctuation/commas.asp – JavaLatte Aug 25 '18 at 5:55
  • I should have made this clear. The part "thousands of workers from the weapons industries and at least half a million “demobilized” soldiers" is very essential to what I am writing and is not additional info, hence, the pair of commas are not justified, according to the article. Would you agree? – AIQ Aug 25 '18 at 6:20
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    "and at least half a million demobilised soldiers" is important additional information, but it is not essential to the understanding of the rest of the sentence. If the section between the commas is removed, the remaining text still makes sense. cws.illinois.edu/workshop/writers/restrictiveclauses. Note that the adjective essential is non-gradable (something is either essential or not, it can't be slightly essential), so you cannot say very essential. – JavaLatte Aug 25 '18 at 7:29
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The general rule for commas is that they represent a brief pause, for emphasis or an aside, when speaking. There's more to it than that. And this is one of those mores.

Without the commas the meaning is ambiguous. Besides its intended meaning, it could be read at least two other ways.

According to Sautter (1980), authorities feared that the end of the war would leave (thousands of workers from the weapons industries) and (at least half a million “demobilized” soldiers out of work and out on the streets). Read this way, "out of work and out on the streets" would apply only to the soldiers.

According to Sautter (1980), authorities feared that the end of the war would leave (thousands of workers from the weapons industries) and (at least half a million “demobilized” soldiers) (out of work) and (out on the streets). Read this way, "out of work" would apply only to the workers and "out on the streets" would apply only to the soldiers.

Out of context, and knowing the intent, the alternative constructions might seem unlikely. Also, we might all agree that in any context the alternative constructions would be considered poorly written. But it's not the job of the reader to figure out the most likely meaning or the reading that makes the writing seem better. It's the job of the author to make the text clear and unambiguous.

The commas also distinguish primary and secondary categories. The group within the commas, in this case the soldiers, is secondary to the group outside the commas, in this case the workers. That the primary group is thousands and the secondary group is half a million is unusual. But it's not unreasonable for the authorities to be more concerned with civilians than with military, even demobilized military. The reasons for this are beyond the scope of this question and I won't digress further.

The point is that the commas are necessary for all of these reasons. A long sentence requires pauses when spoken. There must not be any ambiguity. And the relative importance, if any, of identified groups must be clear.

  • "The commas also distinguish primary and secondary categories. The group within the commas, in this case the soldiers, is secondary to the group outside the commas, in this case the workers. That the primary group is thousands and the secondary group is half a million is unusual." You are right about this. This is why I kind of wanted to avoid the commas so as to avoid that interpretation. I feel another option would be to omit "out on the streets" which actually does not add any meaningful info that "out of work" fails to add. When done so, it would read like this: – AIQ Aug 26 '18 at 13:29
  • According to Sautter (1980), authorities feared that the end of the war would leave thousands of workers from the weapons industries and at least half a million “demobilized” soldiers out of work. – AIQ Aug 26 '18 at 13:30

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