General Writing and Grammar Help/Comma and modifying


Does the presence of a comma before the final word of a compound sentence change which clause the final word modifies?

For example:

"I don't want to be hated, for things I wouldn't consider doing, again."


"I don't want to be hated, for things I wouldn't consider doing again."

Does "again" modify "hated" in the first sentence and "doing" in the second? Is there a rule for this?

Thanks, Justin, for your question.

(I would probably quibble with your characterizing either example as a "compound sentence,"  but that's for another discussion.)

Which word is modified, if the sentence is crafted correctly, depends on the position of that word with respect to the modifier. If there's a single modifier, that modifier should appear adjacent to the word modified. Correctly analyzed, "again" in your sentence 1 is what is sometimes called an absolute expression, in that it applies to the sentence as a whole and not to any of its elements. Its proper meaning is that the speaker is saying again that he/she doesn't want to be hated.

If your intention is to convey someone's being hated another time (with "again" modifying "hated"), the sentence could read:

I don't want to be hated again, for things I wouldn't consider doing.

You're right that in sentence 2 "again" modifies "doing."

Positioning of a comma can indeed change the meaning, as indicated above, but not quite in the way you suggested.

You asked about a rule. A rule might be that a comma between two words can change or cancel the relation between them.

*    *    *    *

If any of the above is not entirely clear, please submit a follow-up question.  

General Writing and Grammar Help

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Richard Johnson


I specialize in grammar. I can however answer any question except homework questions--usually the same day--concerning English grammar, usage, or (non-fiction) writing style, on the basis of the American practice. All answers are explained, and I encourage follow-up.


I'm a retired editor and a lifelong student of this subject. My library includes a great many works to which I've referred through the years. I currently rely largely on the sixteenth edition of The Chicago Manual of Style supplemented, where appropriate, by Long, The New College Grammar.

For over 30 years I edited the newsletter of my own organization, which had different names but was last known as

BA, Brooklyn College. Advanced studies in economics and political science.

Awards and Honors
For many years a member of Mensa.

©2017 All rights reserved.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]