Our local newspaper, which sets my lovely little town alight every Friday (and which I am too cowardly to name), not only keeps me abreast of what happens in our enchanting corner of the world but also entertains me on a regular basis – albeit unintentionally. Gripped by an article about a former mission house which was ripe for conversion, I stumbled across this sentence.
It was bought by Mr Grimshaw, who lives close by and has been used for domestic storage since then.
Now, I don’t know about Mr Grimshaw, but I personally would absolutely hate to be used for domestic storage – wouldn’t you? Similar indignities, which are not at all uncommon, are wrought by writers who forget that correlative commas come in pairs; that’s why they are called ‘correlative’, after all. What the unfortunate reporter was trying to say was, of course, this.
It was bought by Mr Grimshaw, who lives close by, and has been used for domestic storage since then.
Correlative commas (such as these enclosing the non-defining relative clause ‘who lives close by’) are, as their name suggests, inseparable, yet one of them (sometimes the first, sometimes the second) often gets overlooked – always with unintended consequences. Below are quoted three more examples from my collection, with a corrected version given underneath each faulty original.
The judge can stop irrelevant questions and what is more, a judge has a duty to do so. (Times)
I very much doubt whether any judge could stop what is more.
The judge can stop irrelevant questions and, what is more, the judge has a duty to do so.
(Strictly speaking, a comma should also be used before ‘and’, since this conjunction marks the beginning of the second clause, but I decided to concentrate on reinstating the lost correlative comma.)
The girls’ comprehensive in Westminster, London claims the title of most improved secondary in England. (Times Educational Supplement)
Does London really claim this title?
The girls’ comprehensive in Westminster, London, claims the title of most improved secondary in England.
He is right to be casting around for a solution which addresses truancy as a family, not an individual problem. (Times Educational Supplement)
Why would anybody want to expend energy on such an unprofitable enterprise as casting around for a solution addressing truancy as a family?
He is right to be casting around for a solution which addresses truancy as a family, not an individual, problem.
So take good care with correlative commas, making sure that you enclose any so-called ‘included unit’ with two of them!