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Hi, everyone.

Been struggling with the below for a while, so hoping someone who has explored this subject before can clarify.

***QUESTION***

Do we put commas between 2 or more prepositional phrases that immediately follow each other at the end of the main clause if all of them modify/restrict the main predicate differently (e.g. one defines when; the other defines where; the third defines time or circumstances, so all acting restrictively)?

Examples below (please don't suggest the word order change; I am trying to understand the restrictive/non-restrictive logic with these):
  • 1. He died in 1989 in a car accident in Detroit. ("in 1989" defines when; "in a car accident" defines circumstances; "in Detroit" defines where - 3 prepositional phrases restrict the main predicate differently; hence no commas between the 3 phrases?)
  • 2. He died in 1989 at his home, in Detroit. ("in 1989" defines when; "at his home" defines where; "in Detroit" also defines where - prepositional phrases 1 and 2 restrict the main predicate differently; hence no commas between these & prepositional phrases 2 and 3 restrict the main predicate in the same way; hence the 3rd phrase becomes non-restrictive, modifies "at his home", and requires commas?)
  • 3. Tom gave a good speech on Monday at the marketing conference. ("on Monday" defines when; "at the marketing conference" defines where - the 2 prepositional phrases restrict the main predicate differently - hence no commas between the 2 phrases?)
  • 4. Tom gave a good speech on Monday at the marketing conference at 5.30 pm. ("on Monday" defines when; "at the marketing conference" defines where; "at 5.30 pm" further narrows down yesterday to the exact time - 3 prepositional phrases restrict the main predicate differently; hence no commas between the 3 phrases?)
  • 5. I lived in London with my girlfriend between 2001 and 2006 ("in London" defines where; "with my girlfriend" defines circumstances / with who; "between 2001 and 2006" defines when - 3 prepositional phrases restrict the main predicate differently; hence no commas between the 3 phrases?

Up until recently, I thought the punctuation and logic above was correct, but having read Writer's Digest Grammar Desk Reference on non-restrictive prepositional phrases, I am now in doubt.

According to Writer's Digest Grammar Desk Reference:
quote:
In the sentence She lived in San Francisco until her death in 2002, for example, the prepositional phrase in 2002 is functioning restrictively. It is distinguishing the woman’s death in 2002 from her death in some other year. In other words, the sentence is implying that the woman died more than once. Surely, however, that is not the writer’s intended meaning. The prepositional phrase in 2002 is in fact providing only supplementary information, not essential information. Inserting a comma before the prepositional phrase will resolve the problem.

Using this logic, I would then be inclined to say that my sentences (5), (1) and (3) above should also be changed to say:
  • (5) I lived in London, with my girlfriend, between 2001 and 2006. (Commas inserted, as no commas imply that I lived in London multiple times - one happens to be "with my girlfriend"; and I lived with my girlfriend in London multiple times - one happens to be "between 2001 and 2006".)

  • (1) He died in 1989, in a car accident, in Detroit. (Commas inserted, as no commas imply that he died multiple times in 1989 - one happens to be "in a car accident"; and he died in multiple car accidents - one happens to be "in Detroit".)

  • (3) Tom gave a good speech on Monday, at the marketing conference. (Comma inserted, as no comma implies multiple speeches on Monday, one of which happens to be good and be at the marketing conference.)

To me this rationale makes sense only if the second prepositional phrases modify/restrict the combined predicate + first prepositional - e.g. in sentence (3), "at the marketing conference" modifies/restricts combined phrase "gave a good speech on Monday" to specific location; "on Monday" in turn modifies/restricts "gave a good speech". In this case, I would say commas are correct (only if "at the conference restricts "speech on Monday").

But, if both phrases "at the marketing conference" and "on Monday" independently restrict/define "gave a good speech" differently (one defines where; the other when), then surely there should be no comma here (on the grounds that both phrases independently define important info about the predicate and answer different questions - one where; one when - so no comma is required between 2 different independent modifiers)? (Same rationale for sentence 1 and 5: if phrases modify each other, commas; if all modify predicate, no commas.)

University of Illinois seems to agree with my rationale and support no comma theory below if the two different modifiers independently define the details about the predicate (where and when):
quote:
Two or More Phrases

When two or more prepositional phrases follow each other, they may modify the same word, or one phrase may modify the object in the preceding phrase:

They arrived at the airport on time. (Both phrases modify "arrived"; "at the airport" tells where and "on time" tells when.)


To me the example below would qualify for The Writer's Digest Grammar Desk Reference comma rationale:

We were good friends until he died, in 1989, in car crash, in Detroit. (Here "until he died" is the main point; rest is non-essential. But this does not seem to be true for above sentences, where these phrases are essential information.)

On these grounds one might lock themselves into thinking that aside from the core clause all modifiers are not restrictive:
If "she died in London in 1990", "in 1990" in non-restrictive, one can argue that so is "in London" and the basic meaning of the sentence should be "she died". Otherwise, why is the first modifier essential and second is not if the tell 2 different things about the predicate "died": one saying "where" - in London; the other saying "when" - in 1990. Both define "died" and do not restrict each other, but rather provide essential info about the predicate?

So what is the correct punctuation and rationale? Are these phrases restrictive or not and what determines that?
Last edited {1}
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Welcome to the Grammar Exchange,

For me, punctuation is a matter of style, diction, and freedom.

Think, e.g.:
---
The long crack of a rifle went caroming out over the pan. What he'd heard whisper overhead he realized was the round passing and vanishing toward the river. He looked back and there was a man standing up out of the sunroof, one hand on top of the cab, the other cradling a rifle upright.

Where he reached the river it made a broad sweep out of a canyon and carried down past great stands of carrizo cane. Downriver it washed up against a rock bluff and then bore away to the south. Darkness deep in the canyon. The water dark. He dropped into the cut and fell and rolled and rose and began to make his way down a long sandy ridge toward the river. He hadnt gone twenty feet before he realized that he had no time to do that. He glanced back once at the rim and then squatted and shoved himself off down the side of the slope, holding the .45 before him in both hands.

Cormac Mccarthy
No Country For Old Men
---

How many commas is any editor going to force past him? Smile

Now, to get closer to your concern, this is something that makes sense to me:

---
When an adverbial clause comes later on in the sentence, however, the writer must determine if the clause is essential to the meaning of the sentence or not. A "because clause" can be particularly troublesome in this regard. In most sentences, a "because clause" is essential to the meaning of the sentence, and it will not be set off with a comma:

The Okies had to leave their farms in the midwest because the drought conditions had ruined their farms.

Dr. Charles Darling
---

IMO, this is an era of flow and breeziness. If you want to enforce or feel necessary or natural — whatever that is — a break/pause in a given sentence in /speech/diction/reading loud/, then[,] by all means[,] use a comma in writing. Otherwise, be spare.
Last edited by Marius Hancu
Thank you for the feedback, Marius. I know that punctuation is largely stylistic and that many prepositional constructions, such as above, can be punctuated with or without commas irrespective of their restrictiveness, when no ambiguity is present. However, my question is not about the stylistic choice but rather the grammatical rationale around restrictiveness/non-restrictivness of such phrases and whether commas are required if we were to punctuate solely on grammatical principle of restrictiveness/non-restrictivness? Can the above examples be treated as non-restrictive phrases or does my logic of different adverbial modification supercede that? 

I don't agree with Writer's Digest Grammar Desk Reference, above, as, using this rationale, we can conclude that all phrases outside direct subject and predicate are non-restrictive.

What is the grammatical rationale here?
quote:
1. He died in 1989 in a car accident in Detroit.

2. He died in 1989 at his home, in Detroit.

3. Tom gave a good speech on Monday at the marketing conference.

4. Tom gave a good speech on Monday at the marketing conference at 5:30 p.m.

5. I lived in London with my girlfriend between 2001 and 2006.
Hello, pauls, and welcome to the Grammar Exchange!

Interesting question. Sorry for my delay. Initially I found it too long to look at, but once I did read it, I saw that you had taken just as much space as you needed to express yourself fully on this advanced punctuation topic. Then I needed to take some time to chew on your question.

All five of your original sentences are punctuated correctly. There are no nonrestrictive modifiers in (1), (3), and (5). In (2), "in Detroit" is a nonrestrictive modifier, with respect to "home," and you've correctly set it off with a comma.

In (4), "at 5:30 p.m." could be either restrictive or nonrestrictive. Because you have punctuated it as if it were restrictive, the reader may suppose that there was at least one other marketing conference besides the one that occurred at 5:30 p.m.

The restrictive–nonrestrictive distinction is generally discussed in relation to nominal modifiers. In the example you've given from The Writer's Digest Grammar Desk Reference, the prepositional phrase is a modifier of the noun "death":
quote:
She lived in San Francisco until her death in 2002
It is possible to treat "in 2002" as a reduced relative clause. Notice that no-one who is the least bit sensitive to the restrictive–nonrestrictive distinction would write, "She lived in San Francisco until her death that was in 2002." No, it needs to be:
  • She lived in San Francisco until her death, which was in 2002.
Nothing in the quote you have given from The Writer's Digest Grammar Desk Reference, which discusses the restrictive–nonrestrictive distinction most excellently, supports the commas that you add in your second, shortened set of examples, which you claim use the logic of the Writer's Digest quote:
    (1') He died in 1989, in a car accident, in Detroit.

    (3') Tom gave a good speech on Monday, at the marketing conference.

    (5') I lived in London, with my girlfriend, between 2001 and 2006.
There is no restrictive–nonrestrictive rationale to support those commas. The phrases set off by commas are restrictive. Therefore they can only be justified—or pled for—as "restrictive afterthoughts" within your stream of consciousness, or, alternatively, as commas used for emphasis — c.f.:
  • I lived in London. With my girlfriend. Between 2001 and 2006.
Let's look more closely at (1). Whether the sentence is "He died" or "He died in 1989" or "He died in 1989 in a car accident" or "He died in 1989 in a car accident in Detroit," it contains no nonrestrictive details. In particular, it contains nothing which would distinguish "one of his deaths" from another. Now, I like what you say here:
quote:
We were good friends until he died, in 1989, in car crash, in Detroit. (Here "until he died" is the main point; rest is non-essential.
Here you are on the right track, though I should prefer that you had only used the first and second comma, and used "a" before "car crash": "We were good friends until he died, in 1989, in a car crash in Detroit." The crucial detail here is the "until."

When the sentence "He died in 1989 in a car crash in Detroit" is subordinated under "until," the phrases "in 1989" and "in a car crash in Detroit" become nonrestrictive, the reason being that "he died" specifies a complete value for "until."

Until when? Until then: until he died. If, after saying "until he died," you then decide to go on specify when that was and under what circumstances his death happened, you will be venturing into nonrestrictive territory, since those details aren't restrictive with respect to the main point of the "until clause"—that you were good friends until he died.
Hello, everyone,

These stats are in support of the premise that the commas are frowned at in today's writing much more than before.

At COCA:

in a car accident in
54 results

, in a car accident in
0 results

in a car accident , in
0 results

, in a car accident , in
0 results

(where spaces are required in COCA searches around the commas, on both sides)

A more interesting case for me is represented by the dying "commas around 'and'":

COCA [ACADEMIC]
----
Date 2014
Publication information Jun2014, Vol. 47 Issue 3, p470-488. 19p.
Title Class on Television: Stuck in The Middle
Author SPANGLER, LYNN C.;
Source Journal of Popular Culture

Their house is in constant need of repair, however , and , in a third season episode, they explore how it would be cheaper to sell it and rent an apartment, an idea their children hate.
---

While commas on both sides of "and" were previously common in similar contexts, today, most professional editors would not use the 1st or the 2nd of the three commas in the above bolded sequence.

The search for breeziness, as I've said Smile
Last edited by Marius Hancu
Thank you, Marius, for additional research - I agree with the overall trend towards lighter open punctuation.

David, many thanks for taking the time to both review and answer my question in so much detail - this is exactly the kind of detailed analysis I was hoping to get. I agree with your points and glad I was on the same track in terms of my logic.

I do, however, have a follow-up question with respect to my example sentence (4), above, which you said should be non-restricrive if I have one marketing conference in mind.
quote:
Original sentence:
4) Tom gave a good speech on Monday at the marketing conference at 5:30 p.m.
Could I argue that "at 5:30 p.m." here refers not to the marketing conference, but "gave". So in other words it does not distinguish a specific marketing conference, but rather defines the time of the speech, more precisely than the exact day already does.

This is better demonstrated if we make the tense of the sentence future tense:
  • Tom will be giving a speech tomorrow at the marketing conference at 5:30 p.m.
Here "at 5:30 p.m." clearly defines time. If taken out, we would not know what time Tom will be giving speech. As the prepositional phrase defines a fact, not otherwise known, it should not have a comma (and the normal restrictive/non-restricrive logic does not apply). And surely the same applies to the same sentence in the past, in example (4) above? (Although I do agree that in example 4 the prepositional phrase "at 5:30 p.m." can also refer to "marketing conference" and be punctuated based on restricrive/non-resteicrive.)

Would you agree with this additional interpretation, giving the prepositional phrase 3 possible meanings:
  • a) "at 5:30 p.m." can define "the marketing conference" as restricrive elliptical relative clause.
  • b) "at 5:30 p.m." can provide supplementary information about "the marketing conference" as non-resteicrive elliptical relative clause.
  • c) "at 5:30 p.m." can define the time when the speech was given and require no comma, as shown with the equivalent future tense example, above.
This is probably better seen if we re-arrange the prepositional phrases in sentence 4. Would you agree that two examples below require no commas and that "at 5:30 p.m." simply defines the time of the speech and not describing any noun:
  • Tom gave a good speech at 5:30 p.m. on Monday at the marketing conference.
  • Tom gave a good speech on Monday at 5:30 p.m. at the marketing conference.
Without all 3 facts (prepositional phrases) the reader would not know when, what time and where the speech was given.

Future tense example, above, demonstrates it better, but the tense should not change the comma rationale?
Last edited by pauls
Hello, everyone,

David said:
quote:
pauls said:
quote:
We were good friends until he died, in 1989, in car crash, in Detroit.

(Here "until he died" is the main point; rest is non-essential.
Here you are on the right track, though I should prefer that you had only used the first and second comma, and used "a" before "car crash":

"We were good friends until he died, in 1989, in a car crash in Detroit."

The crucial detail here is the "until."

When the sentence "He died in 1989 in a car crash in Detroit" is subordinated under "until," the phrases "in 1989" and "in a car crash in Detroit" become nonrestrictive, the reason being that "he died" specifies a complete value for "until."

Until when? Until then : until he died .


I'm sorry, but I disagree with the considerations of both of you saying basically that
'Here "until he died" is the main point; rest is non-essential.'

If that were the main rule used by many editors, we would not find the situation at:

COCA:

until he died in
36 hits

until he died , in
6 hits

majorly skewed toward the absence of commas.

e.g., for the 1st search:
---
Date 2006 ( Aug/Sep2006)
Publication information Vol. 57 Issue 4, p38-46, 8p, 13c
Title Tiki.
Author Curtis, Wayne
Source American Heritage

Donn Beach remained a fixture in Honolulu until he died in 1989 at the age of 81 .
---
Date 2011 (110327)
Publication information BUSINESS; Pg. K-01
Title Going large scale NEW WATERS FOR Author Andy Vuong The Denver Post
Source Denver Post

The story of how little Central Telephone and Electronics - as the company was called when it incorporated in 1968 - is transforming into the nation's third-largest traditional phone operator starts with its founder, Clarke M. Williams, a low-key but shrewd businessman who served as chairman until he died in 2002 at the age of 80.
---
Date 1999 (Jan)
Publication information Vol. 90, Iss. 1; pg. 70, 11 pgs
Title The ballad of big daddy
Author William Nack
Source Sports Illustrated

There is only one detailed account of where Lipscomb went and what he allegedly did from the time the softball game ended until he died in the ambulance on Friday morning.
---

and, e.g., for the 2nd search:
---
Date 2014
Publication information Oct2014, Vol. 45 Issue 6, p68-73. 5p. 5 Color Photographs.
Title TRUE COLORS
Author WORTMAN, MARC;
Source Smithsonian

He remained a grandee until he died , in 1891, at age 74.
---

I think the "restrictive-non-restrictive" paradigm doesn't help us understand what is going on in this situation, why people prefer one of the two major alternatives.

I, for one, imagine commas as spatial or conceptual separators, forcibly dividing the space of a complex sentence in several /rooms/cells/, if the commas are used:

|He remained a grandee until he died ,| in 1891, | at age 74 |.

But this is a very fragmented view of reality, and many authors don't want to embrace it.

The "integral" author would write:

He remained a grandee until he died in 1891 at age 74.

as in the first set of examples from COCA in this posting.

He would allow his reader to use a lighting beam scanning the sentence from beginning to end, mentally stopping at his/her will, after scanning/parsing less or more from the sentence:

He remained a grandee until he died

He remained a grandee until he died in 1891

He remained a grandee until he died in 1891 at age 74

(Here, I agree partially with David's 'Let's look more closely at (1). Whether the sentence is "He died" or "He died in 1989" or "He died in 1989 in a car accident" or "He died in 1989 in a car accident in Detroit," it contains no nonrestrictive details. In particular, it contains nothing which would distinguish "one of his deaths" from another.'

I especially agree with his 'In particular, it contains nothing which would distinguish "one of his deaths" from another.', but not that much with 'it contains no nonrestrictive details.' Specifically, under current definitions, the two assertions seem to contradict each other.)

Again, I am simply saying that the 'restrictive-non-restrictive' paradigm doesn't help in this case.

There no walls and rooms here. The reader assembles reality by fathoming less or more deep Smile

This is what, IMO, an author not using many commas in similar sentences tells us (consciously or unconsciously): "I'm letting you explore as much of the details of the sentence as you wish, more or less of it. I'm giving you the breezy, equal/flat, rendition of the whole, with no breaks — for in this day and age one had better have his/her truth/facts out ASAP — but you can stop in your adding of details at any point by yourself and with no major imposed /breaks/hurdles/walls/. You are free — or at least, I am not constraining you."
Last edited by Marius Hancu
Hi, Marius,

What pauls is looking for here is not comma usage statistics but analysis of where commas may or may not be placed if restrictive–nonrestrictive logic is adhered to with absolute rigor and precision.

Since almost no writers adhere to the restrictive–nonrestrictive distinction with absolute rigor and precision, taking statistical polls on their placement of commas can't answer pauls's question.

Only one publication that I know of follows the restrictive–nonrestrictive distinction with a great deal of rigor and precision, and that's the New Yorker. Look here for a defense of the (controversial) commas in the following example:
quote:
Before Atwater died, of brain cancer, in 1991, he expressed regret over the “naked cruelty” he had shown to Dukakis in making “Willie Horton his running mate.” ( source)
Lutz and Stevenson, the authors of The Writer's Digest Grammar Desk Reference, are advocates of restrictive–nonrestrictive punctuation rationale, and refer their readers to the New Yorker as an exemplar of excellence in punctuation, describing its punctuation as (I kid you not) "exquisite."

So, to review, I said that the sentence "He died in 1989 in a car crash in Detroit" contained no nonrestrictive details and thus indicated that its comma-free punctuation was fully compliant with restrictive–nonrestrictive comma logic.

However, as I explained, when we change that stand-alone sentence to a subordinate clause by placing "until" before it (and making "He" lowercase), what follows "died" BECOMES nonrestrictive.

Why? Because the "until"-clause is itself an adverbial with respect to the main clause, "We were good friends." "Until" means "up to the time of/that . . .," and, setting aside the metaphysical possibility of reincarnation, a person dies only once. Consequently, "until he died" is as complete in its specification of time as "until his death."

Just as "until his death in 1989" is incorrectly punctuated from the standpoint of die-hard, New Yorker-style adherence to the restrictive–nonrestrictive distinction, so too "until he died in 1989" is incorrect from the same standpoint.

He only died once, so the phrase "in 1989" is nonrestrictive.
quote:
I do, however, have a follow-up question with respect to my example sentence (4), above, which you said should be non-restricrive if I have one marketing conference in mind.
quote:
Original sentence:
4) Tom gave a good speech on Monday at the marketing conference at 5:30 p.m.
Could I argue that "at 5:30 p.m." here refers not to the marketing conference, but "gave". So in other words it does not distinguish a specific marketing conference, but rather defines the time of the speech, more precisely than the exact day already does.
Hi, pauls,

Syntactically, it is possible for "at 5:30 p.m." to be a verb-phrase adjunct rather than a noun-phrase adjunct in that sentence. However, it is ambiguous, so the reader won't be able to tell for sure unless you add a footnote explaining that you intend for "at 5:30 p.m." to be interpreted as adverbial. If, on the other hand, you move "at 5:30 p.m." so that it follows or precedes "on Monday," no comma or footnote will be needed:
    4a) Tom gave a good speech on Monday at 5:30 at the marketing conference.

    4b) Tom gave a good speech at 5:30 p.m. on Monday at the marketing conference.
The same rationale applies to your future-tense variation.
Marius, thank you again for your feedback and additional research. David is correct, I am not looking for statistics on comma usage, but rather on logic behind restrictive/non-restrictive comma placements if adhered to with absolute rigor and precision, as shown in Writer's Digest Grammar Desk Reference or New Yorker.

David, thank you again for explaining my position, what I am looking for, and great explanation around comma placement logic - the advice is superb.

Since New Yorker was cited, I do have a final question with respect to what we discussed vs what I find routine in New Yorker. Would you agree that the examples below are over-punctuated, as they seem to contain independent clause with essential adverbial adjuncts, requiring no commas before or after adverbial adjuncts in such cases, as we discussed at length above, yet New Yorker happily places commas there:
quote:
1. He died in 1965, from Lou Gehrig’s disease. (source: New Yorker
quote:
2. He died in 1992, of AIDS, and left behind a wife and two kids. (source: New Yorker)
quote:
3. He died, in 1997, in Paris. (source: New Yorker)
Without looking at the entire New Yorker Corpus, I would say I find such punctuation in 65% of their articles, with the remaining 35% seem to follow the logic we discussed above. See examples below:
quote:
4. He died in a car crash on September 30, 1955. (source: New Yorker)
quote:
5. He graduated from Manhattan Community College in 1975, where he studied composition with Yusef Lateef. (source: New Yorker)
So, bearing in mind what we discussed and the New Yorker examples above, are examples 1-3 correct? Example 3 is especially troubling to me. Is this correct punctuation, over-punctuation, or have we missed something in our discussion? Examples 1-3 do not seem to agree with the logic that we agree with?

How for example is "He died in 1965, from Lou Gehrig’s disease" different from "He died in 1989 in a car accident in Detroit"? Both seem syntactically identical, meaning comma placement should be the same?

The only explanation that comes to mind is writer's intended meaning and if writer wants to make "from Lou Gehrig’s disease" central or non-central to the meaning of the sentence. If "from Lou Gehrig’s disease" is central to the meaning and writer wants to clearly state the year and the cause of death, "from Lou Gehrig’s disease" becomes restrictive and hence no comma between these two adverbial adjuncts; if the cause of death is non-essential and the main point is the year of death, "from Lou Gehrig’s disease" is non-restrictive and hence comma as in the original example?

Same goes for "He died, in 1997, in Paris." Could I argue that comma placement is dependent on writer's intention. If writer wants to say that "He died in 1997 in Paris", specifying the when and where, there should be no commas as both phrases become restrictive. But, if writer's intention is to only specify one fact ("in 1997", for instance) or just the fact that "He died", there should be commas present as in the original example, making the "where" (in 1997) and "when" (in Paris) non-restrictive?

Finally, same goes for "He graduated from Manhattan Community College in 1975" in example (5): if writer's original intention is to specify the when and where, "from Manhattan Community College" and "in 1975" are restrictive and hence no commas. But, if writer only wants to specify the fact "He graduated" as the main fact, "from Manhattan Community College" and "in 1975" become non-restrictive and the sentence should be rendered:
  • He graduated, from Manhattan Community College, in 1975.
Or, writer wants to specify the "graduation from Manhattan Community College" as the main point, "graduation from Manhattan Community College" becomes restrictive and "in 1975" becomes non-restrictive, rendering the punctuation to be:
  • He graduated from Manhattan Community College, in 1975.
In other words, the non-restrictive comma can be justified even in the independent clauses as sentences but only if the additional adverbial adjuncts are either not central to the meaning of the sentence or are meant to be non-central by the writer?

New Yorker seems to have too many sentences of this nature (independent clauses with restrictive adverbial adjuncts, like examples 1-3 above and first post's examples 1-5) punctuated with commas around restrictive adverbial adjuncts (where we agree there should be no commas) to simply say "it's over-punctuation", so I am wondering if we have missed anything else with regard to restrictive/non-restrictive comma placement logic in the discussion above?
Last edited by pauls
Hi, pauls,

Please forgive me if I don't reply to everything you post. You can direct me back to something if you don't feel that what I've said about something else indirectly covers it. I only have a finite amount of time to donate to the Grammar Exchange, and other members need me, too. Your posts are close to essay length.

It goes without saying that it would require many lifetimes of work to justify every comma that the New Yorker has used. Indeed, that could be an ongoing full-time job for a staff of editors and grammarians. If you keep quoting examples from the New Yorker for me to justify, this thread will never end.
quote:
(1) He died in 1965, from Lou Gehrig's disease.
As you know, NOT ALL COMMAS ARE APPLICATIONS OF THE RESTRICTIVE–NONRESTRICTIVE DISTINCTION. We use commas in series (apples, peaches, and oranges), in dates (March 6, 2016), before vocatives (Great question, pauls), and so on and so forth.

Sometimes people ask questions here about the use of commas before "because"-clauses. That is a good discussion topic in and of itself. It turns out that negation in the main clause is an important factor, where the presence or absence of a comma can affect the scope of negation. But let's not go into that here.

Where negation is not used in the main clause, the use of a comma before a "because"-clause that follows is optional. Different considerations come into play. Generally speaking, if there is not a comma before the "because"-clause, it is because its content is being emphasized as important.

We're looking at your New Yorker examples outside of their context, as if they appeared in a vacuum. And that's O.K.: that's what we do here! But sometimes context is relevant, and it seems to me that the author of (1) did not consider the cause of "his" death a focal point of the sentence; hence the comma.
quote:
(2) He died in 1992, of AIDS, and left behind a wife and two kids.
There, too, it is not restrictive–nonrestrictive logic that led to that comma's being used. The author could have written: "He died of AIDS in 1992 and left behind a wife and two kids." It seems to me, however, that the writer wanted to give separate emphasis to the date and the cause of death.

Also, the phrase "died of AIDS" perhaps overly emphasizes the cause of death, as if the deceased were just being categorized as yet another AIDS victim. Meanwhile, "He died in 1992 of AIDS" strikes me as stylistically inelegant. Perhaps Marius could gather some usage statistics on "in [XXXX-date] of" phrases.
quote:
(3) He died, in 1997, in Paris.
The forgoing text is important. The preceding sentence ends with "moved to France in 1924." If the author had written, "He died in Paris in 1997," he would have been ending two consecutive sentence the same way. If he had written, "In 1997, he died in Paris," then he would have had the somewhat inelegant string "moved to France in 1924. In 1997 . . . ."

I read (3) ("He died, in 1997, in Paris") as a different way of writing: "In 1997, he died in Paris." The point is that he moved to France way back when, and died in France many decades later. The year is less important than the place.
quote:
(4) He died in a car crash on September 30, 1955.
There should be nothing mysterious about that sentence.
quote:
(5) He graduated from Manhattan Community College in 1975, where he studied composition with Yusef Lateef.
There's nothing mysterious about that one, either, is there?
Thanks again, David. I think I have the answer now to my question. The last New Yorker examples were just to satisfy that I understand the issue 100% and that commas placed in examples where I would not place them are done for other reasons than Writer's Digest restrictive & non-restrictive commas.

I will therefore conclude that non-restrictive commas around prepositional phrases are non needed in independent clauses unless the phrase adds supplementary information about the adverbial adjunct or the adjunct itself is meant to be non-restrictive and that New Yorker commas have been placed where they are for other considerations.

Appreciate your time and detailed analysis.

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