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Why did the author use a comma between upright and the way? Isn't it redundant?

One reason that so many of us are fascinated by penguins is that they resemble us. They walk upright, the way we do, and, like us, they are notoriously curious creatures. Penguins in the wild walk right up to people, touch them, and look as if they were preparing to study them. Diane Ackerman points out that "there is, ordinarily, a no-mans-land between us and wild animals. They fear us and shy away. But penguins are among the very few animals on earth that cross that divide.

The Emperor's Embrace

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They walk upright, the way we do, and, like us, they are notoriously curious creatures.

The commas around "the way we do" are perfectly fine. You only ask about the first one, but really you should look at both of them: "the way we do" is a parenthetical clause or aside, and commas are one way of setting off a parenthetical clause. Em-dashes and parentheses are your other two options, and you can sometimes get away with using no punctuation at all:

  • They walk upright, the way we do, and...
  • They walk upright—the way we do—and...
  • They walk upright (the way we do) and...
  • They walk upright the way we do and...

No matter which punctuation mark you choose, you have to have both an "opening" mark and a "closing" mark. They surround the parenthetical clause and make it clear that it is additional information, not an integral part of the sentence.

A parenthetical clause can be recognized by removing it entirely from the sentence. If it still makes sense, it was parenthetical. In your example sentence, both "the way we do" and "like us" are parenthetical clauses; here is the sentence without either clause:

They walk upright and they are notoriously curious creatures.

Now, if you were to remove only the first comma in the sentence:

They walk upright the way we do, and, like us, they are notoriously curious creatures.

What is now the first comma is awkward and incorrect.

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