Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tutor Tuesday - Commas and Appositives

Figuring out where and when to use a comma can be tricky. They're pesky little buggers, aren't they? One situation when you sometimes use one (and sometimes not) is with appositives and appositive phrases.

An appositive is a noun that describes another noun, such as:

My father, Mike, is retired.


When the movie was over I called my mom, Laurie, to pick me up.

An appositive phrase would be:

Stephen King, a New York Times bestselling author, has millions of fans.


Being a huge supporter of the cause, Rachel donated thousands of dollars.

So, when do you use commas in these situations?

When the information is necessary for the meaning of the sentence you do NOT need to separate it with a comma. If the information is extra and nonessential, you DO separate it with commas.

For example:

My friend Sarah just got married.

I presumably have more than one friend, so her name (Sarah) is essential information and therefore is NOT separated by commas.

Example of when you do use commas:

At our high school, the principal, Mr. Torreli, has a very strict policy on tardiness.

There is only one principal at the school, so the extra information (his name) is nonessential and therefore set apart with commas.

In a situation where you have both, it might look like this:

My uncle David brought his wife, Shannon, to my graduation.

I have more than one uncle so his name is essential (not set apart) but he only has one wife, so her name isn't necessary and IS set apart.

What are some punctuation rules that confuse (or just plain irritate) you? :)


Melissa Bradley said...

Thank you so much for this, I always have comma problems. I get confused when listing information like "I'd like to thank my parents, Mother Theresa and the Pope." Sounds like MT and his holiness are my parents. Or if it's okay to use a comma before then "I took the key out of the lock, then shoved the door open." Or should I just use and?

Janet Johnson said...

Great explanation. Commas can be a major pain. In France, they just put in a comma whenever they would take a natural breath in the sentence, and (working with French documents often enough) I sometimes find myself doing this, too. Extra commas everywhere!

Katrina L. Lantz said...

I always feel weird when those commas aren't there, just because I'm in the if-in-doubt-keep-the-comma camp. So when I see, "My friend Jacob break dances," it drives me crazy, even if it is correct. I just. have to. put in. those commas!!

Thanks for the distinction. You always make things clearer for me on Tutor Tuesday!

Cheree said...

Great post. I just hate commas. They are a major pain.

Jen Chandler said...

Oh commas. We have a long love/hate relationship.

Thanks for the explanation :)