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Commas and Sentence Parts: Writing Skills Success Study Guide (page 2)

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Updated on Aug 25, 2011

Commas with Appositives

An appositive is a word or group of words that immediately follows a noun or pronoun. The appositive makes the noun or pronoun clearer or more definite by explaining or identifying it. Look at the following examples. The appositives and appositive phrases have been highlighted.

    Examples:

      Rachel Stein won the first prize, an expense-paid vacation to the Bahamas.
      New Orleans, home of the Saints, is one of my favorite cities.
      One of the most inspiring motivators in college basketball is Dr. Tom Davis, coach of the Iowa Hawkeyes.

Sometimes, a proper name that identifies or further explains will follow a noun or pronoun. Although this is also a type of appositive, it is not set off by commas.

    Examples:

      My sister Deb lives four hours away.
      The noted novelist Barbara Kingsolver writes about the South and Southwest.

Place commas where they are needed in the following sentences.

  1. Ms. Mason the bank manager scheduled a meeting with new employees.
  2. MP3 players devices virtually unheard of a decade ago are very common today.
  3. Maggie loves to take long walks on the nature trail an oasis of calm.
  4. Health care coverage a major consideration for everyone has steadily worsened over the years.
  5. The poem was written by Sylvia Plath a very accomplished poet.
  6. My friend Cynthia threw me a surprise party last year.

You should have marked the sentences like this:

  1. Ms. Mason, the bank manager, scheduled a meeting with new employees.
  2. MP3 players, devices virtually unheard of a decade ago, are very common today.
  3. Maggie loves to take long walks on the nature trail, an oasis of calm.
  4. Health care coverage, a major consideration for everyone, has steadily worsened over the years.
  5. The poem was written by Sylvia Plath, a very accomplished poet.
  6. My friend Cynthia threw me a surprise party last year. (no comma needed)

Commas and Nonrestrictive Clauses

Earlier in this lesson, you learned that a subordinate clause at the beginning of a sentence is followed by a comma, but a subordinate clause any other place in the sentence is not set off by a comma. This is true only if the clause is an essential clause. In some sentences, a clause cannot be omitted without changing the basic meaning of the sentences. Omitting such a clause changes the meaning of the sentence or makes it untrue. Such a clause is called an essential or restrictive clause.

    Examples:

      All drivers who have had a drunk driving conviction should have their licenses revoked.
      All drivers should have their licenses revoked.

The highlighted clause is essential because the meaning of the sentence is changed drastically if the clause is removed from the sentence. A restrictive clause is not set off with commas.

However, a nonessential or nonrestrictive clause must be set off by commas. A clause is nonrestrictive if it simply adds information that is not essential to the basic meaning of the sentence. If a nonrestrictive clause is removed, the basic meaning of the sentence is not changed.

    Examples:

      My father, who is still farming, is 74 years old.
      My father is 74 years old.

The highlighted clause is nonrestrictive. If it is removed from the sentence, the basic meaning of the sentence is not changed. Nonrestrictive clauses usually begin with one of these subordinating conjunctions: who, whom, whose, which, or that. (Technically, the proper subordinating conjunction for a restrictive clause is that, while nonrestrictive clauses use which, but in practice, many writers ignore this distinction.)

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