Just got a writing job, part of which involves editing. There’s a pretty specific type of sentence that’s coming up a lot, and I’m not sure if a comma is required or not.
The sentences look like this:
Baxter played his role well in the first game and scored tons of points throughout the series.
My question is, is a comma required between game and and?
(The remainder of this post simply explains my attempts to figure it out myself, and why I can’t.)
My first thought is that a comma is required, because the and separates two independent clauses. But I’m not actually sure if that’s the case, since while Baxter is the clear subject of both verbs in the sentence, he’s not actually named after the and, so I’m not sure if the rest of the sentence really does constitute a second independent clause. Furthermore, a simpler form of this sentence would be Baxter played and scored. I’m almost certain that this sentence doesn’t require a comma, which makes things more confusing.
My only guess at a justification for the possible difference is that in the longer sentence, each of the verbs is attached to a different object (his role and tons of points). I’m kind of stuck.
Are there two independent clauses here? Is the comma required, and why? If there weren’t two different objects in the sentence (or if one or both of them were missing or merely implied) would that change things?
First of all, punctuation is a matter of style, and you will find the rules for that style in the style guide that your employer has adopted. Which guide governs your edits, and what does it say? Different guides have different rules, but the good ones will emphasize that fiats must be tempered by the recognition of exceptions and the role of the good judgment of authors and editors.
That said, on to your specific questions. Your sentence has one clause with a compound predicate, which (as you noted) is played well and scored tons. Yes, Baxter is the subject of both verbs, but that doesn’t make
scored tons of points
a clause on its own. The fact that each verb governs a different object doesn’t matter. You could have
Baxter played his role well in the first game and so continued throughout the series.
The second verb (continued) doesn’t have a direct object at all, and you still have the comma dilemma.
I use the Chicago Manual of Style, which recommends that commas separate conjoined independent clauses and that they do not separate compound predicates. In fact, CMOS states that these rules are more than recommendations, calling them “obligatory”, but CMOS notes at least one exception to the former — short clauses. Their example that omits the “obligatory” comma is
Charles played the guitar and Betty sang.
That exception won’t help you with your problem, though. You should probably consider inserting theforbidden comma when not doing so will create a so-called garden path, an invitation to the reader to choose the wrong parse. In this case would the absence of a comma lead the reader to initially consider that the conjunction was to join something other than the second predicate? For example, a compound direct object, along the lines of
Baxter played his role well in the first game and the second.
or an adverbial phrase as in
Baxter played his role well in the first game and in general.
And here’s where your judgment as an editor comes in. My personal opinion is no: the reader immediately encounters a verb (scored) and not an article (and the second) or a preposition (and in general). But there’s a simple way to avoid the agony, and that’s to make a simple edit to create a compound clause to justify the comma:
Baxter played his role well in the first game, and he scored tons of points throughout the series.