How to enclose parenthetic expressions between commas
Ah yes, the commas. The difficult-to-understand punctuation mark that is essential to writing, but why? Why is this little, curvy dot so important when it comes to writing? Well my dear peers, that’s because without commas, it’ll be very hard to read and understand what’s written. Without commas, literature will be a place of chaos and misinterpretation. Commas are also used to enclose parenthetic expressions. What are parenthetic expressions? Parenthetic expressions are supplementary words or phrases. So, any additional words or phrases that are considered parenthetic should be enclosed with commas. For example:
The best way to see a country, unless you are pressed for time, is to travel on foot.
How do you know whether or not something is a parenthetical expression? By reading or saying the sentence without the parenthetical expression and see whether or not it still makes sense. So, try to read the first examplewithout the underlined phrase. Does it still make sense?
Also, some parenthetic expression don’t interrupt the flow of the sentence as much. If there’s barely an interruption you can remove the commas, but if the interruption is slight or considerable, you may use only one comma. For example:
Marjorie’s husband, Colonel Nelson paid us a visit yesterday.
My brother you will be pleased to hear, is now in perfect health.
Dates should be punctuated as follows:
February to July, 1992
April 6, 1986
Wednesday, November 14, 19990
It is customary to omit the comma in
6 April 1988
A name or a title used directly is parenthetic. For example:
If, Sir, you refuse, I cannot predict what will happen.
Well, Susan, this is a fine mess you are in.
The abbreviations etc., i.e., and e.g., the abbreviations for academic degrees, and titles that follow a name are parenthetical expressions. For example:
Letter, packages, etc., should go here.
Horace Fulsome, Ph.D., presided
Rachel Simonds, Attorney
The Reverend Harry Lang, S.J.
But, if there’s a restrictive term of identification, no commas should be used. For example:
Billy the Kid
The novelist Jane Austen
William the Conqueror
The poet Sappho
A restrictive clause is a clause which functions as an adjective to identify the word it modifies, and it’s essential for the intended meaning. For example:
The boy who broke the window is at the door.
The underlined clause identifies the boy. It’s a necessary component of the sentence.
An example of a non-restrictive clause:
Simon Baxter, who is a deep-sea fisherman, is training to be a lion tamer
The underlined clause describes Simon Baxter, but doesn’t identify him, therefore it’s a parenthetical non-restrictive clause and should be enclosed with commas.
More examples of non-restrictive clauses:
The audience, which had at first been indifferent, became more and more interested.
In 1769, when Napoleon was born, Corsica had but recently been acquired by France.
Nether Stowey, where Coleridge wrote The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, is a few miles from Bridgewater.
In these sentences the independent clauses are set off with which, when, and where, and are non-restrictive, because they simply add more meaning to the sentence. Each of the sentences above could be split up in 2 independent sentences.
The audience was at first indifferent. Later it became more and more interested.
Napoleon was born in 1769. At that time Corsica had but recently been acquired by France.
Coleridge wrote The Rime of the Ancient Mariner at Nether Stowey. Nether Stowey is a few miles from Bridgewater.
If you need more help, you can watch this video
This video is very tedious and may be hard to get through, but it’s only 2 minutes long and might be helpful!
How to use a dash
Now what if you want to add something that’s considered abrupt or even more interruptive? Something to announce a long appositive or summary? You can use dashes! “A dash is a mark of separation stronger than a comma, less formal than a colon, and more relaxed than parentheses” (Strunk and White, The Elements of Style, 9).
His first thought on getting out of bed - if he had any thought at all - was to get back in again.
The rear axle began to make noise - a grinding, chattering, teeth-gritting rasp.
The increasing reluctance of the sun to rise, the extra nip in the breeze, the patter of shed leaves dropping - all the evidences of fall drifting into winter were clearer each day.
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