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We dream in our waking moments, and walk in our sleep.

Why is there a comma after "moment"?

I see this commas usage very often. (This sentence was written by Nathaniel Hawthorne in The Scarlett Letter.) Even though there are only 2 items in this list, people seem to include a comma if a prepositional phrase is used with the first predicate.

Is this grammatically correct?

Funny thing is that I think the sentence sounds better without the comma. The comma puts an unnecessary break.

1 Answer 1

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Yes, the comma is correct.

There's no standard rule about whether to put a comma in that place or not. It's up to the author, who can decide whether they want the reader to pause there or not when they read that sentence.

Most modern writers would not put a comma there because it feels very slow. In Hawthorne's day, it might have been more common to put a comma there, or he may have put one there on purpose to make a sentence about dreaming and sleeping feel very slow.

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  • First, you said that it's up to the author. Theoretically, I would agree with you, but if it was a standardized test, are you sure? This appears a case that might be expressly prohibited. For example, this website (although not dispositive) states such usage is wrong. owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/punctuation/commas/… Nov 10, 2023 at 21:04
  • I see this exact comma usage with compound predicates and wonder if it's wrong. I see it pretty frequently. Nov 10, 2023 at 21:05
  • @QuietInMontana What defines whether a usage is correct or not is whether native speakers do it and consider it natural. Native speakers use commas this way all the time, and we consider it natural.
    – gotube
    Nov 10, 2023 at 21:23
  • @QuietInMontana Assuming you're talking about rule 13 on that page about not using a comma in compound predicates, the rules on that page are a mix of strict grammar, natural writing style, and decent suggestions. Unfortuantely, they've represented everything as "CORRECT" or "INCORRECT", regardless of how strict a writer needs to be. No commas in compound predicates is definitely the way I lean when giving writing advice, but it's by no means "INCORRECT". The commas in both examples there in section 13 and the Hawthorne example are correct, but novice writers should avoid them if unsure.
    – gotube
    Nov 10, 2023 at 21:24
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    Thanks for the helpful info though. I appreciate it. Good luck with teaching! Nov 17, 2023 at 17:57

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