A summary of Lesson 5 of the Comma Sense Course
COMMA SENSE CLASS
COMMAS INTERPRET MEANING
Comma usage has proven to be complicated for the seasoned writer due to a matter of interpretation. It need not be difficult in determining the essentiality of a word or phrase. As the author of any particular word, phrase, or sentence, YOU control the interpretation and expose the meaning to your reader with the use—or non-use—of commas.
RULES OF COMMA USAGE
[Scroll down to bottom of this page for list of rules and exceptions.]
Rule #21: Non-Essential Appositives
Use commas to set off Appositives that are Non-Essential.
An Appositive ONLY consists of a noun, pronoun, or noun phrase that renames, modifies, identifies, or attributes to another noun immediately before it. An Appositive may be introduced by a word or phrase such as namely, for example, or that is. Appositives do not contain a verb. In Lesson #1 we learned that there are many types of Non-Essential Elements [Rule #5]. Well, now the Non-Essential Element known as an Appositive has its own Rule.
Please note that Rule #21 DOES NOT replace Rule #5, only those non-essential elements that are specifically Appositives as defined here. It is very similar to an Absolute Phrases [Rule #16], but unlike an Absolute Phrase that modifies only the noun within that phrase and NOT another noun in the sentence, an Appositive renames or amplifies another word in the sentence that IMMEDIATELY PRECEDES IT. If the sentence is clear and complete without the Appositive and you can omit the Appositive thereby deeming it Non-Essential, you must surround the Non-Essential Appositive with commas.
Examples of Non-Essential Appositives:
Cujo, a beautiful Saint Bernard, likes to chase cars with little boys inside them.
A beautiful Saint Bernard is an Appositive. It only consists of a noun phrase which describes Cujo, a noun immediately before it. It is a Non-Essential Appositive because it is not necessary to know that Cujo was a beautiful Saint Bernard, so the Appositive needs commas around it. You might be wondering why this is not considered an Absolute Phrase. An Absolute Phrase is made up of a noun and its modifiers that modify that noun within the phrase, NOT another noun in the sentence. In this example the beautiful Saint Bernard modifies Cujo, another noun in the sentence.
Bob, a Robert Frost fan, is a dear friend of mine.
The Appositive in this sentence is a Robert Frost fan. It only consists of a noun phrase which describes Bob, a noun immediately before it. The Appositive needs commas around it because knowing that Bob is a Robert Frost fan is Non-Essential to the fact that he is a dear friend of mine.
George, the armed gopher, loves to stuff jelly beans in his cheeks.
If you learn these rules, you will master the placement of the comma, a misunderstood punctuation mark.
That first comma applies to Rule #2 for the Introductory Adverbial Clause. The ending phrase a misunderstood punctuation mark is a Non-Essential Appositive. It renames the word comma immediately before it.
Your dearest friend, namely Pat, is in trouble.
You only have one dearest friend, so the name Pat is not essential. The name Pat attributes identification to your dearest friend which is located immediately before the Appositive.
Pat, your dearest friend, is in trouble.
The Appositive in this sentence is your dearest friend which amplifies Pat, the word immediately before it.
ALERT!! The following sentence is NOT an example of Rule #21.
Pat, who is your dearest friend, is in trouble.
Who is your dearest friend is not a Non-Essential Appositive. It is simply a Non-Essential Element and Rule #5 applies. Remember, Appositives do not contain a verb like is.
Rule #22: Essential Appositives
Do NOT use commas to set off Essential Appositives.
The Essential Appositive cannot be omitted from a sentence without affecting the basic meaning of that sentence. The Essential Appositive modifies another noun in the sentence which MUST BE IMMEDIATELY BESIDE IT and is vital to the clarification of that noun next to it. In Lesson #1 we learned that there are many types of Essential Elements [Rule #6]. The particular Essential Element we are referring to here is an Appositive and now has its own Rule Number. It cannot be omitted from the sentence and, therefore, must not be surrounded by commas.
Please note that Rule #22 DOES NOT replace Rule #6, only those essential elements that are specifically Appositives as defined here.
Examples of Essential Appositives:
Your friend Pat is in trouble.
The name Pat is an Appositive. It identifies the noun friend which is immediately beside it. If you omitted the name Pat, you would have to ask yourself, 'What friend?' Therefore, this Appositive is Essential and no commas are used.
ALERT!! The following sentence is NOT an example of Rule #22.
Your friend who is named Pat is in trouble.
Who is named Pat is not an Essential Appositive. It is simply an Essential Element and Rule #6 applies. Remember, Appositives do not contain a verb like is.
John Kennedy the popular US president was quite different from John Kennedy the unfaithful husband.
Here we do not put commas around either Appositive because they are both Essential to understanding the sentence. Without the Appositives, the sentence would read as follows: John Kennedy was quite different from John Kennedy. We wouldn't know what qualities of John Kennedy were being referred to without the Appositives, so no commas are used for either Appositive.
The sixth-century philosopher Boethius was arrested, tortured, and bludgeoned to death.
Remember this example from Lesson #1? Boethius is an Essential Word. We need to know which 6th century philosopher the writer is referring to. So no commas surround the Essential Appositive Boethius. Instead of Rule #6, this is now an example of Rule #22.
Here are a couple of reliable links detailing the definition and comma placement for Appositives:
Rule #23: Interrupters
Use commas to set off Interrupters such as expressions and direct addresses.
An Interrupter is a Non-Essential Element like in Rule #5.
Please note that Rule #23 DOES NOT replace Rule #5, only those non-essential elements that are specifically Interrupters as defined here. Interrupters are little after-thoughts in a sentence, added to show emotion, tone, or emphasis. This specific non-essential element now has its own rule number. An Interrupter is a word, phrase, or clause that significantly breaks the flow of a sentence. Types of Interrupters are expressions, remarks, confirmatory questions, and direct addresses.
Examples of Interrupters:
Madam, your package is dripping blood.
This is a direct address. Someone called madam is being directly spoken to which interrupts the flow of the sentence.
Those basketball shoes, to be perfectly honest, do not complement the suit you are planning to wear to the interview.
Remember this example sentence from Lesson #1 applying to Rule #5? Well, now this type of non-essential element is called and Interrupter, and Rule #23 applies. To be perfectly honest is a remark that interrupts the natural flow of the sentence. It can be omitted without damaging the integrity of the sentence. Commas need to surround the Interrupter.
He must, of course, be strip searched.
Of course is an expression which interrupts the flow of the sentence.
The elves, as you remember, are psychopathic serial killers.
As you may remember is a remark, an interruption in the sentence.
ALERT!! The following sentence is NOT an example of Rule #23.
Pat, who is your dearest friend, is in trouble.
Who is your dearest friend is not considered an Interrupter. It is simply a Non-Essential Element and Rule #5 applies. Remember, Interrupters are little after-thoughts in a sentence, added to show emotion, tone, or emphasis. The Non-Essential Element here is much more than an Interrupter. It describes Pat and identifies her as your dearest friend.
You are doing a great job with these lessons, students.
I am directly addressing the students which causes an interruption in the sentence.
You're one of the senator's close friends, aren't you, Miss Spicy Galor?
Here, we have a confirmatory question and a direct address. Aren't you turns the sentence into a question and interrupts the flow. Directly speaking to Miss Spicy Galor by addressing her by name further interrupts the sentence.
You didn't know the Comma Sense Class would be so easy, did you?
The confirmatory question did you turns the sentence into a question and interrupts the flow.
Rule #24: Contrasting Coordinate Elements
Use a comma to separate Contrasting Coordinate Elements.
A phrase or clause denoting Contrasting qualities as it relates to the main sentence is considered a Contrasting Coordinate Element and is separated with commas.
In Lesson #1, we learned about an exception to Rule #1:
Exception #1xe: A comma IS used before the coordinating conjunction joining a clause to a phrase when expressing extreme contrast.
Well, now this exception has its own Rule and isn't necessarily restricted to Coordinating Conjunctions as its connector or whether the sentence involves a clause and a phrase or two clauses. The Contrasting Coordinate Element can include Ending Adverbial Clauses [Rule #13] which express contrast. These Contrasting Elements can also be considered Interrupters [Rule #23], but when those Interrupters express contrast, they are considered as applying to this Rule #24.
Examples of Contrasting Coordinate Elements:
He was merely uneducated, not a complete imbecile.
The phrase stuck onto the end of this sentence is an Interrupter. It slows down the flow of the sentence. But in this context, it expresses a contrast coordinating the fact that the guy was uneducated, but not completely stupid. So, here, Rule #24 applies.
My tenth rejection letter left me devastated, but more determined than ever.
This is a sentence with a clause and a phrase, but a comma is still needed before the coordinating conjunction but because the phrase more determined than ever expresses contrast as it coordinates with the beginning clause. I was devastated, but determined. This is an example of Rule #24.
My tenth rejection letter left me devastated, though I was more determined than ever.
Here we have an Ending Adverbial Clause  which is a rule calling for no commas. However, since the Ending Adverbial Clause expresses contrast between devastated and determined, Rule #24 applies, and a comma is needed.
The homeless man's cardboard-box home was flimsy, although well constructed..
Exception #24xa: Correlative Conjunctions
Do NOT use commas to separate Correlative Conjunctions in a non-compound sentence, even when contrast is expressed.
Few sentence constructions cause as much consternation for writers and editors as the Correlative Conjunction. Some conjunctions combine with related parallel words to form what are called Correlative Conjunctions. They always travel in pairs, joining various sentence elements that should be treated as grammatically equal. No comma is used between them. The most important thing to remember when using Correlative Conjunctions is that the words, phrases, or clauses that are put together must be the same type. That means that nouns must be put together with other nouns, verbs with other verbs, adjectives with other adjectives, and so on.
Correlative Conjunctions are:
not only...but also
Here are a couple of links to reliable articles that may help clarify any confusion in this matter:
Examples of Correlative Conjunctions:
Both my sister and my brother work with computers.
The Correlative Conjunction in this sentence is both...and. This Correlative Conjunction links together two words of the same type. In this case, the types of words are the nouns, sister and brother. No comma is used to separate the Correlative Conjunction.
You may have either cake or ice cream.
The Correlative Conjunction in this sentence is either...or. This conjunction also links two nouns, cake and ice cream.
She wanted neither cake nor ice cream.
The Correlative Conjunction in this sentence is neither...nor. This conjunction links two nouns.
He did not know whether to put a comma here or to omit the comma.
The Correlative Conjunction in this sentence is whether...or. This conjunction links two infinitive phrases. These phrases express contrast: to put a comma or to omit a comma. However, since Correlative Conjunctions are incorporated in this contrast, no comma should separate them.
The New Horizon teachers are not only intelligent but also friendly.
The Correlative Conjunction in this sentence is not only...but also. This conjunction links two adjectives, intelligent and friendly.
INCORRECT The New Horizon teachers are not only intelligent, but friendly too.
This sentence is grammatically unacceptable, but I see this erroneous construction often lately. Since we dropped the word also, there are no Correlative Conjunctions here, and a comma must be used before the coordinating conjunction but because of Rule #24.
Exception #24xb: Comparative Correlatives
Use commas to separate the two phrases in Comparative Correlatives.
The Comparative Correlative is composed of two phrases, each of which expresses a comparative. The first is interpreted as a subordinate clause and the second as a main clause. A comma should be placed between the two phrases.
Examples of Comparative Correlatives:
The longer the storm lasts, the worse the damage is.
The bigger they are, the harder they fall.
The less they have to say, the more they talk.
Out of sight, out of mind.
Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Here are links detailing this type of sentence structure:
RULES OF COMMA USAGE:
Rule #1 - Independent Clauses Joined by Coordinating Conjunctions (use commas)
>>Exception #1xa: Independent Clauses Joined by So That (don't use commas)
>>Exception #1xb: Independent Clauses Joined by Subordinating Conjunctions (don't use commas-usually)
>>Exception #1xc: Short Independent Clauses Joined by Coordinating Conjunctions (don't use commas)
>>Exception #1xd: Clauses and Phrases Joined by Coordinating Conjunctions (don't use commas)
>>Exception #1xe: Clauses and Phrases Joined by Coordinating Conjunctions Expressing Extreme Contrast (use commas)
Rule #2 - Introductory Adverbial Clauses (use commas)
Rule #3 - Coordinate Adjectives (use commas)
Rule #4 - Non-Coordinate Adjectives (don't use commas)
Rule #5 - Non-Essential Elements (use commas)
Rule #6 - Essential Elements (don't use commas)
Rule #7 - Essential That Clauses (don't use commas)
Rule #8 - Elements in a Series (use commas)
>>Exception #8x: Conjunctions separating each element (don't use commas)
Rule #9 - Introductory Phrases (use commas)
>>Exception #9x: Short Introductory Prepositional Phrases (don't use commas)
Rule #10 - Ending Participial Phrases (don't use commas)
>>Exception #10x: Ending Participial Phrase not immediately next to word it modifies (use commas)
Rule #11 - Introductory Transitional Words (use commas)
>>Exception #11x: Coordinating conjunction used as an Introductory Transitional Word (don't use commas)
Rule #12 - Interjections (use commas)
Rule #13 (formerly 1xb) - Ending Adverbial Clauses (don't use commas-usually)
>>Exception #13x: Ending Conjunctive Adverbial Then Phrases (use commas-with exceptions)
Rule #14 - Disjunctive Adverbial Words (use commas)
Rule #15 - Adjunctive Adverbial Words (don't use commas)
Rule #16 - Absolute Phrases (use commas)
Rule #17 - Disjunctive Adverbs In Short Sentences (don't use commas)
>>Exception #17x: Certain Disjunctive Adverbs & Expression of Emphasis In Short Sentences (use commas)
Rule #18 - Shared Subjects (don't use commas)
Rule #19 - Separation of Subjects and Verbs (don't use commas)
Rule #20 - Comma Splices (don't use commas)
Rule #21 - Non-Essential Appositives (use commas)
Rule #22 - Essential Appositives (don't use commas)
Rule #23 - Interrupters: Expressions--Remarks--Confirmatory Questions--Direct Addresses (use commas)
Rule #24 (formerly 1xe) - Contrasting Coordinate Elements (use commas)
>>Exception #24xa: Correlative Conjunctions (don't use commas)
>>Exception #24xb: Comparative Correlative (use commas)
Click here for "Parts of Speech for Comma Sense Class"
Instructor: Winnie Kay
Resource Links for this Lesson: