Comma or no comma?

You’ve probably figured out that I find Microsoft Word’s grammar checker rather too simplistic, but sometimes it throws up an issue which is subtle and interesting. A sentence was equivalent to:

After the first hearing the plaintiff wrote to me, because I had raised a concern that he had not mentioned physical violence in his written claim, and submitted that he had never been physically harmed by the defendant.

The grammar checker suggested removing the second comma. But that would change the meaning of the sentence. As it stands, the person who submitted was the plaintiff, because everything between the commas can be omitted:

The plaintiff wrote to me and submitted that he had never been physically harmed by the defendant.

Removing the comma means that the person who submitted was the legal officer:

The plaintiff wrote to me. Why? Because I had raised a concern [about one thing] and submitted [another thing].

At least that’s my reading on it, on the basis that plaintiffs, in general, submit. Legal officers, on the other hand, among other things, find:

I had raised a concern [about one thing] and found [another thing].

If the relevant verb was suggested, then the sentence could go either way; plaintiffs and legal officers can equally suggest.

This might all have been avoided by adding ‘to me’ (viz, the plaintiff submitted to ‘me’) or ‘to him’ (viz, ‘I’ submitted to the plaintiff). I didn’t have to decide, because my editing tasks don’t include inserting or removing commas. 

Added later: the more I thought about it, the more submitted seemed a strange choice either way. Legal officers don’t have to submit anything to a plaintiff, and a plaintiff will usually submit something supporting their case. Here, the plaintiff’s case was actually weakened by conceding that he had never been physically harmed.


Effective English

… more important than so-called good English [is] effective English. English that clearly, strongly and unambiguously ‐ unless you’ve a penchant for ambiguity – conveys from writers’ brains through their typing fingers and onward to the imaginations of their readers what it is that writers are attempting to communicate.

Benjamin Dreyer is “is vice president, executive managing editor and copy chief, of Random House”. He has just released a book called Dreyer’s English AN UTTERLY CORRECT GUIDE TO CLARITY AND STYLE, which I am neither endorsing nor not endorsing. I am less likely to buy it after finding myself described as a “godless savage”, and Dreyer obviously didn’t proofread that job title himself. And I would question three things about style in the quotation itself. But I fully endorse effective English.

Today on the Sydney Morning Herald website is this article, from which the quotation comes.

(Checks post very carefully in case there’s any mistakes: Muphry’s Law.)