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Is it grammatical to separate the two prepositional phrases (P.P) by a comma in

The truth is that after hospitals are hit, and in areas like this where there is just one hospital, our houses have become hospitals.

?

The first P.P is

after hospitals are hit

, and the second is

in areas like this where there is just one hospital

Both have the same grammatical 'weight', so there shouldn't be a comma before and, which, here, acts as a coordinating conjunction here; should it?

Source: the last paragraph of this newspaper article.

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The information between the pair of commas is nonrestrictive. That's why it is being set off as it is.

This is the essential sentence:

The truth is that after hospitals are hit, our houses have become hospitals.


Since the additional information is not restricting the sentence, it is inserted between a pair of parenthetical commas. It could also be removed without impacting the grammar of the sentence:

The truth is that after hospitals are hit, and in areas like this where there is just one hospital, our houses have become hospitals.

The same grammatical function could have been served with dashes or parentheses:

The truth is that after hospitals are hit —and in areas like this where there is just one hospital— our houses have become hospitals.

The truth is that after hospitals are hit (and in areas like this where there is just one hospital), our houses have become hospitals.


The use of and may be misleading in terms of parsing what's going on. Consider the same sentence with especially instead:

The truth is that after hospitals are hit, especially in areas like this where there is just one hospital, our houses have become hospitals.


To answer a comment, this cannot be an independent clause followed by two dependent clauses.

The comment said:

The truth is that our houses have become hospitals.

That sounds fine. However, it's not what the sentence says.

What it does say is, on its own, ungrammatical; therefore, it's not an independent clause:

✘ The truth is that after hospitals are hit.

There is no completion:

? The truth is that after hospitals are hit … What? What is the truth?

This, too, is not meaningful:

✘ The truth is that after hospitals are hit, and in areas like this where there is just one hospital.

It has the same problem as just the first part of the sentence does.

? The truth is that after hospitals are hit, and in areas like this where there is just one hospital … What? What is the truth?

No single part of the sentence stands on its own because of the use of the word after. If after were removed, then the first part of the sentence would be an independent clause.


While you could argue that our houses have become hospitals is an independent clause, if that were the case, then the way the sentence as a whole is phrased would not work. You couldn't say that everything that comes before it is simply introductory. It would make sense if it stood on its own—but it doesn't make sense as part of the greater sentence when interpreted in that way.

The only meaningful independent clause that stands on its own as a complete thought, and as part of the whole sentence in context, is the simplified version that I gave at the start of this answer:

The truth is that after hospitals are hit, our houses have become hospitals.

In the full sentence, the portion of the sentence after the second comma completes the thought and clause from the portion before the first comma. Without that it would not be a meaningful sentence.

This is a single independent clause. It's the only form of the sentence that stands on it's own in a meaningful way.

In the full version, this independent clause is interrupted by a dependent clause that is placed in the middle, between a comma pair.

  • But one could equally argue that what we have is an independent clause: The truth is that our houses have become hospitals with two consecutive nonrestrictive phrases: after hospitals are hit, and in areas like this where there is just one hospital; after all, we can remove or change the place of any of these two P.P without affecting the essential meaning (the houses becoming hospitals). – Norbert Oct 14 at 9:47
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    @Norbert No, and I have expanded on my answer to explain why that is not the case. You are also confusing the plain language essential meaning with the specific syntactical term essential meaning, which only allows for the removal of words, not for the addition of words or the changing of their position. You have to analyze the grammar of the sentence as it is. If you change it, it becomes a different sentence with different grammar. – Jason Bassford Supports Monica Oct 14 at 13:41
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This use of commas is actually technically correct. It is based on the general principle that when you have two independent clauses connected by a conjunction (in this case "and"), there should also be a comma, so when you combine:

after hospitals are hit

with

in areas like this where there is just one hospital

you get:

after hospitals are hit, and in areas like this where there is just one hospital

That is then being prepended as a conditional phrase to the rest of the sentence, so it needs a comma there as well:

after hospitals are hit, and in areas like this where there is just one hospital, our houses ...

Now, while this is technically the rule, in many cases people tend to leave off the comma when using "and" with independent clauses, provided the result is not too confusing, but when working with clauses, using the comma is actually technically more correct.

Note that this does result in a bit of an ambiguity, however. Surrounding a clause with commas can also imply that it is nonessential to the sentence, for example:

Tom, who is my friend, is very tall.

In this case, omitting the commented phrase doesn't change the meaning of the sentence:

Tom is very tall.

It is, therefore, also possible to read the original sentence as having "and in areas like this where there is just one hospital" offset with commas, implying that it is a nonessential phrase, and can be left out without changing the sentence. Unfortunately, really the only way to tell the difference is by context (in this case, it appears it was probably not intended to be nonessential, although it could be argued the other way if one were so inclined).

  • 'after hospitals are hit' and 'in areas like this where there is just one hospital' are not independent clauses: Both are meaningless alone. – Norbert Oct 14 at 0:10

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