with parenthetical elements
“Let’s eat Grandpa!” vs “Let’s eat, Grandpa!”
Commas save lives.
For me, it helps to think about these commas as coming in pairs like em dashes and parentheses and about the words inside as being a set, like maybe a set of things on a tray, and the commas are the handles on the side of the tray. That way I can picture picking up the whole set, commas and all, and taking it out or moving it around in the sentence as needed. (The only catch is that you need to ditch one of the commas when the set is at the beginning or end of the sentence.)
- Oscar Wilde, who is almost never wrong, suggested that it is perilous to promiscuously contradict people who are much younger than yourself.
- “What is your evaluation of the instructor?” asks question number eight, entreating them to circle a number between five (excellent) and one (poor).
- By rebelling against established ways of seeing and saying things, genius helps us to apprehend how malleable the present is and how promising and fraught with danger is the future.
- Please remember, however, that there is a huge difference between story and plot.
He might last for weeks without food, but no animal, however mighty, can do without water for any extended period of time.
- The story made your mother laugh, though, so my labors are repaid.
Above all, she wanted to look as though she had not given the matter a moment’s thought, and that would take time.
“If you’re happy in a dream, Ammu, does that count?” Estha asked.
- Over the past few years, the physical layout of my university has been changing. To put it a little indecorously, the place is looking more and more like a retirement spread for the young.
Past Student Examples
The consequences for filing bankruptcy can, however, be worse than expected by a debtor looking for quick freedom from excessive credit. ~Andy
I am quiet most often; however, I have my moments. ~Mitch
How Parenthetical Commas Work
Phrase, independent clause.
Independent, phrase, clause.
Independent clause, phrase.
The description “parenthetical” helps show the function of these commas: they take the place of parentheses to set off a removable and non-essential piece of information. While parentheses would make the information more understated and em dashes would emphasize the information, commas are the more ordinary and subtle middle option.
These parenthetical elements can come at the beginning, middle, or end of the sentence and generally add some kind of description. Be sure the parenthetical element comes in the most logical place in the sentence, right before or after what it describes. When the phrase is at the beginning, the comma has become optional in modern usage, especially when the phrase is short and won’t cause confusion without a comma. Also sometimes a phrase in the middle won’t use commas if it’s considered essential information.
A few common parenthetical elements include words like however, -ing phrases, phrases starting with which, the name of the person to whom you are speaking (see the quote about eating Grandpa at the top), etc. On the other hand, phrases starting with that usually don’t break off with a comma.
Like with em dashes and parentheses, the piece broken off by the commas should be completely removable. Cover it up and check that the rest of the sentence can stand on its own. If your parenthetical phrase comes in the middle, make sure you have a second comma leading back into the main clause.