commas and lawnmowers

Subject: commas and lawnmowers
From: David Ibbetson <ibbetson -at- IDIRECT -dot- COM>
Date: Tue, 6 Feb 1996 16:29:27 -0500

Stephen Victor writes:

> <snip> Inserting a comma changes the implied meaning of the sentences.
> Take for example:

> The lawnmower which is in the garage is broken.
> (There's more than one lawnmower, and it's the one in the garage that
> we're talking about.)
> The lawnmower that is in the garage is broken.
> (Same meaning as the above example)
> The lawnmower, which is in the garage, is broken.
> (There may or may not be other lawnmowers. The fact that the broken
> one is in the garage is simply extra information -- the main point is
> that the lawnmower is broken.)

I see you've been reading Strunk and White, who use lawnmower examples
as well. However, it seems you've added a sentence to bolster your case.
My copy of S&W (Third edition, 1979) doesn't have your first example.
Have Messrs. Strunk and White risen from the dead to revise their
original position on this issue?

Even if I'm mistaken about your source of information, the use of commas
is irrelevant. It's a pronoun issue (which vs. that), not a punctuation
issue. Both the first and third sentences mean precisely the same thing.


Now, who was it who pointed out that a sentence that depends for its meaning
on punctuation marks is a bad sentence. Was it the Fowlers?

"The teacher says the pupil is a fool."
"The teacher, says the pupil, is a fool."

David (looking forward to spring) Ibbetson

David Ibbetson Phone (416) 363-6692
ibbetson -at- idirect -dot- com Fax (416) 363-4987
133 Wilton Street, #506
Toronto, Ontario
Canada M5A 4A4

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