Posted by: Jack Henry | January 10, 2019

Editor’s Corner: Commas with Nonessential Elements

Good morning, and welcome to another installation of the Comma series. I’d like to say, “brought to you by popular demand,” but that might be a bit of a stretch, so I’ll say, “brought to you by a modicum of interest.” Hey, I’ll take what I can get. Please keep reading.

This week, I’m sharing information about commas with nonessential elements. These commas are placed next to the clause in a sentence that is not essential to the meaning of the sentence. Here are a few examples of sentences with the nonessential clauses and commas highlighted:

  • The company, which is headquartered in Missouri, has an impeccable reputation.
  • The dog, wagging its tail, ran toward the woman.
  • Tatyana, who immigrated from Russia, decided to become a U.S. citizen.
  • She sings for the band, which plays every Friday night.

Nonessential information can be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence, as shown in these revisions of the previous examples:

  • The company has an impeccable reputation.
  • The dog ran toward the woman.
  • Tatyana decided to become a U.S. citizen.
  • She sings for the band.

Sometimes information can be essential or nonessential depending on context. If, using the first example, it’s important to note that the company is headquartered in Missouri, you would need to revise the sentence to make that clear:

  • The company is headquartered in Missouri and has an impeccable reputation.

If you wanted to emphasize that the dog was happy to see the woman, you would revise that sentence—maybe like this:

  • The dog was wagging its tail as it ran toward the woman.

The same is true for the remaining examples. As the writer, you decide whether information is essential or nonessential and punctuate accordingly, remembering that nonessential elements are set off with a comma or between two commas.

The editor, who loves writing these articles, is now signing off.

Donna Bradley Burcher | Senior Technical Editor | Symitar®

8985 Balboa Ave. | San Diego, CA 92123 | Ph. 619.278.0432 | Extension: 765432

Symitar Documentation Services

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