I often see English sentences written in a fancy way with commas, for example, "At age 80, the greatest Maya king, Pacal dies." I would write " The greatest Maya king Pacal dies at the age of 80." Because this is the only sentence structure I know: Subject + verb + " at the age of 80".

This is just a simple example as I don't know where to pull complex sentences from which I see a lot in academic journals. As English is not my native, and at the same time, I am learning to write like a professional academic, I oftentimes feel uncomfortable and shakey to write complicated sentences, simply because I don't know what possible sentence structures there are and the rules.

What are the most used sentence structures, and if possible, what are the best resources I should study? I want to be able to justify every sentence structure I use and be confident with it. I would like to solve this problem once and for all.

Much appreciated!

  • 1
    If you are asking why 'at age 80' was put at the beginning of the sentence, it's just to draw the reader's attention to his age. There is nothing wrong with your version. Jun 21, 2021 at 15:53

1 Answer 1


First, punctuation is not grammar. It does not even exist in speech. It is useful in writing because writing loses many of the subtle cues inherent in speech: volume, pauses, tone of voice, etc. Punctuation is defined in style manuals, which differ among themselves. So any answer about punctuation is technically relative to some specific style manual. There is, however, a great deal of similarity among current style manuals. Most answers about punctuation indicate what the majority of style manuals say.

Second, the comma usually marks what would be a brief pause in speech.

When an introductory phrase or subordinate clause precedes the subject of the main clause, it is usual in speech for the speaker to pause very briefly. Consequently, it is recommended to insert a comma when that situation arises in writing.

Third, nouns in apposition are also usually marked by a preceding and following pause in speech and a preceding and following comma in writing. So the typical recommended punctuation for your example would be

At the age of eighty, the greatest Mayan king, Pascal, dies

Notice that there are three commas rather than two.

Fourth, you are correct that your example is literary in register. Notice the use of the historical present in "dies" used about a past event.

The greatest Mayan king, who was named Pascal, died at age 80.

is probably a more common way to express the thought UNLESS the age of death is particularly relevant in context. Then it makes sense to emphasize that age by moving it to the beginning of the sentence. Moreover, the apposition would be atypical in speech unless the audience was knowledgeable about Mayan royalty.

  • Thank you for the detailed answers, I've learnt a lot. Jul 22, 2021 at 2:22

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