Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Vacation over, back to the real world.

And what better time to talk about buried attribution?

Compare these sentences:
Thursday, Stephen said we should buy the new album.
Thursday, Stephen said, we should buy the new album.
When that attribution is buried within a sentence, it is imperative that it be set aside with commas. We must know whether Stephen was speaking Thursday, or whether he intended us to buy the album Thursday. (Truly, the fate of the world depends on it.) And the comma makes all the difference.

Those commas can drastically alter the meaning of a sentence. Consider:
With nowhere to go, he said, the woman's attitude changed. (He's letting us know that the woman, trapped, took a new course of action.)

With nowhere to go, he said the woman's attitude changed. (Now it is the man who is trapped, forced to admit the change or perhaps lying to save his own skin.)
There's a lot of story in a little comma.


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