Comma is a definitely confusing punctuation. I use them spuriously and occasionally indiscriminately.
Originally posted on Sentence first:
From a Guardian editorial of 14 November:
There is another lesson to the Petraeus affair. The former general fashioned for himself a role, which is much more significant than top generals have during wars. [screengrab]
Readers may briefly infer that what is “much more significant” is not a role but Petraeus’s fashioning a role for himself, or they may infer that top generals don’t normally have a role during wars. And then they’ll realise they’ve miscued because of a rogue comma.
The article should read “a role which [or that] is much more significant”. The clause led by which is restrictive, so there should be no comma before it.* Adding one makes the clause non-restrictive and obscures the antecedent – what the relative pronoun which refers to.
The ambiguity is quickly resolved, but it ought never to have arisen. Readers are being made to work unnecessarily for…
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