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I'm struggling with whether the commas are necessary for this sentence I'm editing. Does the part within the commas count as an essential or nonessential phrase? Or something else? I struggle with commas, so any tips would be super helpful! For context, the "report" does cover more information/guidance than just "using the conservation model" to respond to climate change impacts, but the model is a large part of the report. Here's the sentence:

The following report informs a range of possible climate-informed responses, using the conservation model to foster a variety of approaches, and provides advice on how they may be implemented.

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    I disagree with the answers below. IMHO, the commas are very much needed here, and the sentence meaning would be changed significantly without them. The first comma makes clear it's the report that's "using" (rather than the responses), and the second comma is needed because the whole part between the commas in non-essential material inserted into a standard sentence: "The following report informs a range of possible climate-informed responses and provides advice on how they may be implemented."
    – ralph.m
    Jun 10, 2023 at 2:35

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If in doubt, leave them out.

The purpose of commas is to help people work out the structure of the sentence and to indicate where you would leave breaks in speech.

So, for example, the phrase "for example" in this sentence would be spoken with a small break before and after. It is natural to put commas there. But I would not put a comma after the word "I" in this sentence. There is not natural break after the word "I".

You need to decide if there is a need to help your reader find the breaks in the structure by inserting commas. In this case don't see any real benefit in them and so although I don't think the commas are wrong, I probably wouldn't include them.

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    In general, I think this is excellent advice James: to decide whether to use a comma, speak the sentence, and where the breath group ends and the prosody drops (or rises) put a comma. But I'm not clear how immediately useful that advice is to speakers of other languages.
    – Colin Fine
    Jun 9, 2023 at 21:40
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Whether the commas in the sample sentence are appropriate depends on whether the information is essential or not.

Note:

  • I'm no expert when it comes to grammar. Perhaps another poster can explain the specific rules that apply to this sentence. My analysis is based on my experience and intuition as a native speaker.
  • After reviewing the sentence further, I realized there are multiple ways to read it. I've updated my answer accordingly.

Simplifying the Sentence

To better understand why this sentence doesn't need commas, let's first simplify it. Removing the extra details will make it easier to see the structure.

If we remove the adjectives and other descriptive text, such as "range of" and "variety of", the sentence will become this:

The report informs responses, using the model to foster approaches, and provides advice.

Breaking apart the sentence based on where the commas are gives us the following:

The report informs responses

using the model to foster approaches

and provides advice

To become full sentences, the second and third pieces need a subject. Since "the report" is the subject of the original sentence, we'll use that.

The report informs responses.

The report is using the model to foster approaches.

The report provides advice.

These are the three main statements made by the original sentence.

Keep or Remove the Commas?

In the original sentence the phrasing suggests that the second statement is related to the first. However, the commas separate the second statement from the rest of the sentence, indicating that the second statement is non-essential. In other words, you are providing extra details but want readers to focus on "inform responses" and "provides advice."

Removing the commas will give the second statement more emphasis. It will be read as an essential addition to the first statement. It won't be read as just "inform responses" but as "inform response using the model".

Advice: Restructure the Sentence

The fact that different readers came to different conclusions about the need for commas suggests that this sentence would be better if rewritten. There is a lot of information being conveyed so it can help to rebuild the sentence. Combine the first and second statements in one sentence but use another sentence for the third statement.

The following report informs a range of possible climate-informed responses using the conservation model to foster a variety of approaches. It provides advice on how these responses may be implemented.

Another solution is to review the individual statements to determine if the sentence can be reordered or restructured. Rewording statements can also help as you may be able to say the same thing with less words.

Consider this alternative sentence:

The following report uses the conservation model to provide advice on a variety of approaches that address climate change impacts.

This new sentence omits the first statement ("the report informs responses") and places more emphasis on the third statement ("provides advice"). This rewrite does change the meaning. Whether that's acceptable or not will depend on the intended audience and the role of the sentence in the text. (In my opinion, the rewrite is more suitable as an introduction, especially to layman.)

If you ever struggle with whether you need commas in a large sentence, try breaking it down into smaller sentences first. This should make it easier to see the individual statements that you are trying to combine. From there you can decide how best to piece them together.

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  • You seem to contradict yourself. First you say that the sentence doesn't need commas because they only mark a natural pause, then you say that it's a long sentence and therefore does need a pause! Jun 10, 2023 at 8:08

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