I read the sentence like:

In the interest of society they had better not have been born.

In the sentence above, I think we should put a comma after the word 'society' to divide adverb phrase and the main phrase. What do you think?

  • 1
    Where did you find the sentence? Where is your research? Have you found any reference to support your opinion that we should put a comma after the word society?
    – user24743
    Jun 9, 2016 at 9:54
  • 6
    The question should read "Why didn't the author put a comma here?" or "Can the author put a comma here?" The fact that the author didn't use a comma is not proof that the author couldn't have used a comma.
    – TimR
    Jun 9, 2016 at 11:29
  • 1
    Forget adding a comma, I'd rephrase it entirely. Jun 9, 2016 at 16:48
  • No, a comma is not necessary after 'society'. Jun 9, 2016 at 18:35

1 Answer 1


Punctuation conventions are unlike grammatical rules in that these conventions are taught at school, not learned as an infant. They are not a part of the grammar of the language per se. The primary goal of punctuation is clarity and avoidance of misunderstanding.

  1. In the interest of sobriety, no alcoholic beverages are served.

  2. No alcoholic beverages are served in the interest of sobriety.

The first sentence is clear enough: no alcoholic beverages are served and the reason is to foster sobriety. It would still be clear without a comma, making the comma discretionary:

In the interest of sobriety no alcoholic beverages are served.

The second sentence, however, could be understood to mean that alcoholic beverages do not foster sobriety. That is, the participial "served in the interest of society" could be taken to be the complement of "are".

For that reason the second sentence could benefit from a comma:

No alcoholic beverages are served, in the interest of sobriety.

The comma would be understood to indicate that the words "are served" belong together, this

{No alcoholic beverages are served} {in the interest of sobriety}

rather than this:

{No alcoholic beverages are} {served in the interest of sobriety}

So, the "takeway" is this: if you have a past-participle adjective like "born" or "served" in the role of predicate adjective, be aware that a prepositional phrase could be thought to modify that adjective and not your main predicate if the prepositional phrase follows the adjective. Move the phrase to the head of the sentence, or punctuate to avoid ambiguity.

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