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I have a genuine problem. A compound predicate has one subject and two or more verbs. This is the guideline I am following.

Compound Predicate takes no comma when there are two verbs:

  1. Michael dribbled across three defenders and passed the ball to his wide-open teammate.

Compound Sentence takes a comma and a conjunction:

  1. Michael dribbled across three defenders, and he passed the ball to his wide-open teammate.

This is the sentence I am having issues with:

Main Sentence: A. To qualify for fishing benefits, self-employed fishers must have paid premiums during their qualifying period and, depending on the regional unemployment rate, they must have earned between $2,500 and $4,200 in insurable earnings from fishing activities.

Repeating "they must have" requires I put a comma before "and" to make it a compound sentence. But then there are too many commas around "and".

If I reduce the verbiage, it should have the following form:

B. To qualify for benefits, workers must have paid premiums and earned between $2,500 and $4,200. (Compound predicate)

But if I wrote it as a compound sentence, it would include the comma before the conjunction.

C. To qualify for benefits, workers must have paid premiums, and they must have earned between $2,500 and $4,200. (Compound sentence)

Given there is this information after and "depending on the regional unemployment rate" that needs to be set of by a pair of commas, I felt that repeating "they must have" before earned made it easier to read. But then grammar requires me to put a comma before "and" (as is the case for a compound sentence with a coordinating conjunction).

How to punctuate sentence A ? Should I omit "they"?


Please, don't close this. I have done a lot of research in ELU and ELL, but I did not find anything similar. While there are simple examples that talk about the rules of compound predicates, there isn't any that deals with complex structures like the one above.

  • Unless I'm missing something, it seems like you're suggesting that there should be a comma before and after "and": "they must have paid premiums, and, depending on the regional unemployment rate, they must have earned..." What's wrong with that? Seems fine to me. – Juhasz Mar 18 at 18:57
  • That would be accurate, but I don't want to use that form. I am asking, If I use the compound predicate form, then what is the best way to write the second verb phrase? Is it correct to write "...they must have paid premiums and, (...), they must have earned..." ? Or should it be "...they must have paid premiums and, (...), must have earned..." ? – AIQ Mar 18 at 19:10
  • Also, writing it this way "premiums, and, depending" detaches it from the first introductory phrase "to qualify". Basically, it should be "To qualify, X must have verb-ed and verb-ed". – AIQ Mar 18 at 19:12
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Now, I don't know any theory to go with this. I'm just judging this by experience. Your sentence A is absolutely fine as far as I can see, with no comma before and. On the other hand, I agree that the examples in your rule are right, and whether it's a 'must' or a 'should', it's a rule worth following - whether you consider it a grammatical requirement or a stylistic one. So, that seems to be a contradiction, doesn't it?

Thing is, there's an extra complication in your sentence A. There's a parenthetical, immediately after the and. If you followed your rule, you'd have:

To qualify for fishing benefits, self-employed fishers must have paid premiums during their qualifying period, and, depending on the regional unemployment rate, they must have earned between $2,500 and $4,200 in insurable earnings from fishing activities.

Gosh, those two commas bracketing the 'and' are a bit awkward, aren't they? Well, we'd better get rid of one. But which one? We have to have one in order to separate the clauses with explicit subjects, and we have to have one for the parenthetical. How do the alternatives look?

self-employed fishers must have paid premiums during their qualifying period, and depending on the regional unemployment rate, they must have earned between $2,500 and $4,200

self-employed fishers must have paid premiums during their qualifying period and, depending on the regional unemployment rate, they must have earned between $2,500 and $4,200

The first has changed the meaning slightly. The first could be read the requirement depending on the regional unemployment rate - not just the size of the requirement, but the requirement at all.

We could remove the confusion, and move the parenthetical, of course:

To qualify for fishing benefits, self-employed fishers must have paid premiums during their qualifying period, and they must have earned between $2,500 and $4,200, depending on the regional unemployment rate, in insurable earnings from fishing activities.

That moves the parenthetical to immediate after what I assume it refers to, and you could do that. That might be enough for you, and if so I'm please. Still, that doesn't remove the question - why does sentence A seem fine, despite breaking the rule?

Now I'm only complete speculation. If that rule is stylistic, then it being broken occasionally is no surprise. If it's grammatical, there must be a reason for the exception. I think it might be like this...

The comma needs to create a separation between the first clause and the subject-verb-object of the second clause. You also need a conjunction (in this case). Having a conjunction followed by a comma would be against all expectations - except when there's a parenthetical there. The commas of the parenthetical create all the needed separation between the subjects-verbs-objects of each clause, so now you don't need the comma in front of the and.

Anyway, it's just an idea. The actual simplest rewrite to satisfy your rule is above, moving the parenthetical slightly later on in the clause.

  • SamBC - Thanks so much for your detailed answer. But before anything else, I need to clarify one point. You and others who commented on my Q here in ELU and at my school, seem to have this part in common: "To qualify for benefits, fishers must have paid premiums during their qualifying period, and they must have earned..." My Q is, when there is a comma placed before "and" to separate the first clause and the second clause, does the initial modifying phrase "To qualify" apply to both (which it should) or only to the first clause? – AIQ Mar 19 at 22:12
  • I say this because the use of the comma before add signify that they are two independent clauses (with two subjects- fishers and they and two verbs paid and earned) – AIQ Mar 19 at 22:14
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    In this case, it applies to both. Not sure how general that is. – SamBC Mar 19 at 22:14
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    It has to apply to both, because otherwise the sentence would be ridiculous. What would the must in the second part be for? Semantics win over apparent grammar rules in English a lot of the time. Just because two clauses are "independent" doesn't mean they can't share the influence of another clause. – SamBC Mar 19 at 22:33
  • Thanks for taking the time in giving me such a detailed answer and a solution. Moving the parenthetical makes a lot of sense. – AIQ Mar 20 at 0:10

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