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A library featuring commonly committed errors of the English language.
|The vague entry title is intended to encompass several different concepts, which include the aforementioned discourse markers but also pro-sentences, tag questions, and a direct address. What all these have in common is that they represent a deviation from the main thrust of the sentence to which they’re attached, so they should be set off by commas.
Discourse markers are a diverse group of words and phrases that are used to connect thoughts within sentences, between sentences, and between speakers in dialogue. They make discourse flow better and feel more “real.” A discourse marker can be a relatively lengthy saying such as on the other hand, or it can be as simple as a filler sound like um. Common discourse markers include anyway, I mean, look, however, and Valley girls’ personal favorite, like.
Pro-sentences, as one might glean from their name, can stand on their own as sentences. They’re words and phrases like yes, no, maybe, okay, and all right. Unlike interjections, which can communicate emotions and feelings without context, the meaning of pro-sentences can only be understood from their surroundings. A pro-sentence, however, is often joined to a full sentence that directly explains it, in which case a comma needs to come between them.
Tag questions are aptly named since they’re questions tagged onto the end of a sentence. This is done especially for the purpose of verification or clarification, but a tag question can exist for a number of reasons. A tag question can be a single word, or it could be a group of words that could stand on its own as a full sentence, but in either case, it need only be preceded by a comma.
A direct address refers to when the identity of the party being spoken to is stated, but at least in that specific case it is neither the subject nor object of the greater sentence.
This isn’t as easy as it seems, you know.
That’ll be all, yes.
My father, meanwhile, was in the army.
Sure, I’ll be right there.
Okay, what now?
Although I noted that okay is a pro-sentence, it functions as a discourse marker in this case.
Please note that words and phrases that sometimes function as discourse markers and pro-sentences can often be used in other ways such that they’re integral to the meaning of the sentence, in which case they should definitely not be set off by commas:
I don’t feel very well right now.
I want no part of it.
Now you see it, now you don’t.
They like me, don’t they?
You’ve got to be kidding, right?
He holds the world record, is it true?
Doctor, tell me it’s good news.
And that, my friends, is the meaning of life.
“I am, James,” remarked Eric.
In the last example in particular, we can see how important comma usage is around a direct address. Had it been written as “I am James,” we might begin to think Eric has multiple personality disorder.