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In this sentence below, do we need to add the indefinite pronoun “each” to make sure it’s clear both cars have a single hook? Or is it already understood without it?

“Two identical cars each with a single hook holding a trailer, and a bear’s head on the hood’s tip ran toward the town.”

And, do we need to place a comma before “and”? Or is wrong to place a comma inside a complete subject, separating two modifiers?

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    I'm not sure I understand the sentence, so I'm putting this as a comment. Here is how I would punctuate the sentence, and the words I would use, because I'm not sure what "single hook" or "holding a bear's head" mean. "Two identical cars, each towing a trailer and sporting a bear-head hood ornament, drove toward the town." Hope that helps!
    – user8356
    Feb 28 at 18:53
  • Thank you! So, because the cars are identical, the modifiers can be placed between commas as a nonessential information.
    – Piermo
    Feb 28 at 19:25
  • Note, if we go with this structure, many more commas are needed. I'll edit my answer to address. Feb 28 at 19:31
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    Yes, the part about what the cars and doing and how they look is a non-restrictive clause, which should be set off by commas as in the example in my comment.
    – user8356
    Feb 28 at 22:19

1 Answer 1

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Assuming that "hook" means the thing the trailer is attached to, the more technical term is "trailer hitch." It's a little tricky here, because most vehicles have only one trailer hitch (if any), just as they have only one hood (or "bonnet" in UK). So any notion that the two cars shared a trailer hitch ought to be easy to avoid.

But if we eliminated "each," it would be most natural to switch to plurals. "Two cars with trailers and bear's heads."

And meanwhile, if we chose to stick with "each" (which is a perfectly fine option), it's strange to include "a single hook" (or hitch), as it would be unusual for any car to have more than one.

All this is dependent on this particular context. It's easy to imagine scenarios in which we have to be more specific, like when "two Xs with Y" involves multiple Ys per X. Like:

Two boats with 10 rowers drew toward the shore.

10 rowers each, or total? It's not clear.

So, a simple answer to the main question:

Do we need to use “each” with a plural subject describing an item they both possess?

We do if it's not clear how many of such item each one possesses.


About commas: The comma before "and" is not grammatically needed, but helps keep the meaning clear. But many more commas are needed to set off modifying phrases. Build the sentence up from the simplest form:

  • Two cars drove toward town. (Note, "drove" is more idiomatic than "ran" to describe vehicles' progress. You can also use more colorful verbs if you want like "hurtled.")
  • Two cars, each with a trailer, drove toward town. Commas are needed before and after the interrupting phrase.
  • Two cars, each with a trailer and a bear's head decoration, drove toward town. We still need those setting-off commas. I haven't put a comma before "and" yet because this phrase is still pretty simple.
  • Two cars, each with a hitch towing a trailer, and a bear's head on the front of the hood, drove toward town. This time the middle phrase has grown so complex that the comma before "and" helps make it clear, keeping the reading from thinking as they read that they bear's head was towed by the hitch.
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    @Piermo It's a good idea to avoid a "garden path sentence." "... each with a hitch holding a trailer and..." "Holding a trailer and what?" "... a bears head..." "Really? A hitch holding a trailer and a bear's head?" "... on the hood." "Wait, there's a trailer on the hood? Ohhhh I get it, you meant it has a hitch AND a bear's head. I see now." The meaning becomes clear by the end of the sentence, but confusion is possible in the middle. Feb 28 at 19:28
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    @Piermo This is a good example of a place where a comma isn't grammatically needed, but is helpful for meaning. Feb 28 at 19:29
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    @Piermo I would put comma after cars and before ran, to set off the description that interrupts the main clause. The comma after and is optional. Feb 28 at 19:29
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    @ Andy Bonner. Thank you! Now I understand. Thanks to you, I’ve just learned about “garden path sentences.”
    – Piermo
    Feb 28 at 19:48
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    @Piermo "Each," at the head of the modifying phrase, affects all of it, so no need for an extra one. Meanwhile, it would be best to make "centipede" plural, since it isn't part of that "each" phrase, but of the main sentence ("two ships advanced ... like centipedes") Feb 28 at 20:52

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