10

I've stumbled across an, at least from my perspective, questionable use of the comma in the text below.

Kassel: Wenn man das noch ein bisschen zuspitzen kann – kann man das noch ein bisschen zuspitzen?, das wäre die Frage –, würden Sie wirklich sagen, dass jetzt und gerade auch in Zukunft Kapitalismus und Demokratie eigentlich nicht mehr zusammenpassen?1

Both in the second line. The first after the question mark and second comma after the dash.

Question: Is this a correct (uncommon) usage of the comma or is it strictly wrong?

It would look even more obscure if you would replace the dashes, surrounding the insertion, with commas.

1: Taken from this interview transcript.

  • Comma continues a sentence, full stop, question and exclamation marks end it. So we definitly have a conflict here. – tofro May 29 '17 at 12:45
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    I'd certainly phrase it differently, just for the sake of avoiding this issue, but I'd say that it's correct. At least the second comma is correct without doubt. – Em1 May 29 '17 at 12:54
  • @Em1 I would, too. But unfortunately this is an interview transcript. It looks grammatically wrong to my eyes, but it transports the dynamics of the conversation. – mike May 29 '17 at 12:58
  • 4
    This has nothing to to with grammar. It is a question of good practice of type setting. As Em1 pointed out, you would usually try to avoid something like this, but in certain cases there may be arguments in favour of it, and then even in a very well edited book published by a renouned publisher you may find clustered punctuation. All the more so in an interview transcript where spoken language is noted down. As for the dash-comma, a less offending solution would be using brackets instead of the dashes. – Christian Geiselmann May 29 '17 at 14:42
  • IMHO, the second comma is necessary to conclude the conditional clause and the dashes mark beginning and end of an interjection. Comma and dash facilitate understanding the sentence. However, I find the comma after the question mark offending. The comma is likely used to avoid having to capitalize the "das" from "das wäre die Frage, which would be irritating too. (I would have ignored this concern as the cure seems to be worse than the disease.) – Frank from Frankfurt May 10 at 9:45
4

This has nothing to to with grammar. It is a question of good practice of type setting.

As Em1 pointed out in a comment to the initial question, you would usually try to avoid a concatenation of punctuation marks. But in certain cases there may be arguments in favour of it, and then even in a very well edited book published by a renouned publisher you may find clustered punctuation. All the more so in an interview transcript where what is written down is spoken language.

As for the dash-comma in your example, a less eye-offending solution would be using parentheses:

Kassel: Wenn man das noch ein bisschen zuspitzen kann (kann man das noch ein bisschen zuspitzen?, das wäre die Frage), würden Sie wirklich sagen, dass jetzt und gerade auch in Zukunft Kapitalismus und Demokratie eigentlich nicht mehr zusammenpassen?

However, there may be arguments for using the dash rather than parentheses, and Deutschlandfunk – where you took the example from! – obviously decided for the dash – I suppose because a dash – German: Gedankenstrich, or 'thought-stroke' – seems to be more appropriate to spoken language than parentheses.

Now, in order to not leave you allone with my private opinion, here is what a respectable reference book [1] says:

"Der paarige Gedankenstrich in Verbindung mit anderen Satzzeichen: [...] Der Einschub kann [...] mit einem Ausrufe- oder Fragezeichen enden:"

They give the following examples:

Mein Bruder – du hast ihn doch kennengelernt? – hat sich verlobt.

Sie hat das – erinnerst du dich nicht? – gestern gesagt.

Er weigert sich – leider! –, nach Frankfurt zu kommen.

You see in the latter example a cluster of exclamation mark, dash, and comma.

So, I would say: Deutschlandfunk did its job quite well.

And I would add: you may comfortably draw the conclusion that also other clustered combinations (such as question mark followed by comma) are principally possible even in good professional typesetting – provided you do it consequently and with reason.


[1] Duden Ratgeber. Handbuch Zeichensetzung. Der praktische Ratgeber zu Komma, Punkt und allen anderen Satzzeichen. 2. Aufl., Berlin 2014. - The example given here is from § 235.

  • Your examples uses parentheses (...), not brackets [...]. – mike May 29 '17 at 20:11
  • The rules for dashes in combination with exclamation/question mark, which are similar to the usage within quotations, are easy to accept for me. Still, that wasn't my question. I have problems with the comma after the question mark and the comma after the second dash. – mike May 29 '17 at 20:14
  • 1) Thanks for the remark on parentheses. I corrected this. 2) As for a comma after the second dash, I understand your discomfort, but anyway it is a legitimate – although rare – combination of punctuation marks. Says a) me b) Mr. Duden. :-) – Christian Geiselmann May 29 '17 at 20:24
  • Regarding 'question mark+comma': I so far did not find an explicit example in the said reference book, but at least you will find there (§ 206) the following example: Mit den Fragen »Wo?«, »Wann?«, »Wie?« und »Warum?« werden adverbiale Bestimmungen erfragt. Note the comma after 'question mark+quotation mark'. I don't know if this helps you. On the other hand: you may be pretty sure, when Deutschlandfunk uses it, it is not the worst authority to rely on. – Christian Geiselmann May 29 '17 at 20:31
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    I can't see a typesetting question in the OP - It's clearly about punctuation. – tofro May 30 '17 at 6:57
3

?, is not listed among the valid combinations with a question mark¹. Listed are:

  • »Wie geht es dir?«

  • ? – Sie empfahl uns immer – erinnern Sie sich noch? – nachsichtig gegen andere zu sein.

  • ?) Es herrschte damals eine furchtbare Aufregung (erinnerst du dich noch?).

  • ?! Warum denn nicht?!

So

– kann man das noch ein bisschen zuspitzen? Das wäre die Frage –

is correct.

¹DUDEN Richtiges und gutes Deutsch (1998)


Rule for the comma after the second dash: If a comma is necessary without the insertion then also with the insertion.

Wenn man das noch ein bisschen zuspitzen kann, würden Sie wirklich sagen (...)
(comma is necessary)

Wenn man das noch ein bisschen zuspitzen kann – kann man das noch ein bisschen zuspitzen? Das wäre die Frage –, würden Sie wirklich sagen (...)
(comma is necessary as well)

  • 2
    From a very strict viewpoint of punctuation rules, I'm with you. The point is, this a transcript of spoken language, where the question mark is audible (by a raised voice) and the comma maybe is as well (by not ending the sentence here). And in that transcript, it is more important to reflect what has been said than to come up with correct punctuation. So if the original speech raised the "kann man das...zuspitzen" part as a question and still audibly continued the sentence, I think this specific form of punctuation is permissible. In a purely written form, it would definitly be wrong. – tofro May 30 '17 at 13:15
  • @tofro: Um eine besonders enge Verbindung zu kennzeichnen, kannst du nach dem Fragezeichen auch klein weiterschreiben, meines Wissens ist das erlaubt. Wenn wir bei den Satzzeichen allzu viel Freiheit zulassen, sind wir irgendwann bei den Comics. – Pollitzer May 30 '17 at 14:18
  • Auch wieder nach harten Regeln: Laut den Regeln des Rechtschreibrats beendet ein Fragezeichen einen Satz. D.h. danach beginnt ein neuer Satz und der hat mit einem Großbuchstaben zu beginnen. – tofro May 30 '17 at 14:41
1

In most cases have seen the commas ain't written but they are instead replaced with a congugated verb depending on the article of the noun so this is where I get confused

0

If you drop the insertion of the dashes, then the remaining sentence is:

Kassel: Wenn man das noch ein bisschen zuspitzen kann, würden Sie wirklich sagen, dass jetzt und gerade auch in Zukunft Kapitalismus und Demokratie eigentlich nicht mehr zusammenpassen?

In this sentence, it is obvious that between kann and würden there must be a comma, because both words are conjugated verbs and hence cannot be part of the same clause, so these clauses must be separated by a comma.

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