Commas and Sentence Parts: Writing Skills Success Study Guide (page 2)
Practice exercises for this concept can be found at Commas and Sentence Parts: Writing Skills Success Practice Exercises.
The writer who neglects punctuation, or mispunctuates, is liable to be misunderstood. . . . For the want of merely a comma, it often occurs that an axiom appears a paradox, or that a sarcasm is converted into a sermonoid.
—Edgar Allan Poe, American poet (1809–1849)
Commas, one form of internal punctuation, play an important role in many sentences. In this lesson, learn how they highlight specific parts of a sentence in order to make them cohesive with the rest of the sentence.
During this lesson, you will learn how to use commas in relationship to sentence parts. Before you begin this lesson, see how much you already know about commas and sentence parts. Insert commas where you think they should be in the Problem version of the sentences that appear on the next page. Check your answers against the corrected version of the sentences in the Solution section that follows.
Commas Following Introductory Words, Phrases, and Clauses
Use a comma to set off introductory words, phrases, and clauses from the main part of a sentence. The comma keeps a reader from accidentally attaching the introductory portion to the main part of the sentence and having to go back and reread the sentence. In other words, commas following introductory elements will save the reader time and reduce the chances of misinterpreting what you write. Examine the following examples to see how introductory words, phrases, and clauses are set off with commas.
- Disappointed, we left the movie before it ended. Annoyed, the manager stomped back into the storeroom.
- Amazed, Captain Holland dismissed the rest of the troops.
Expecting the worst, we liquidated most of our inventory.
- Badly injured in the accident, the president was gone for two months.
- Reluctant to make matters any worse, the doctor called in a specialist.
- If we plan carefully for the grand opening, we can increase sales.
- While we were eating lunch, an important fax came.
- Because we left before the meeting ended, we were not eligible to win a door prize.
Subordinate or dependent clauses are what you see in the last set of previous examples. The first part of each sentence, the subordinate or dependent clause, is followed by a comma. The two parts of each of these sentences could very easily be reversed and the sentence would still make sense. However, if you reverse the sentence parts, making the independent clause the first clause in the sentence, you would NOT need a comma.
Subordinate clauses after the independent clause:
- We can increase sales if we plan carefully for the grand opening.
- An important fax came while we were eating lunch.
- We were not eligible to win a door prize because we left before the meeting ended.
Commas help a reader know which words belong together. Add commas to the following sentences to help make their meaning clear.
- Inside the house was clean and tastefully decorated.
- After running the greyhounds settled back into their boxes.
- Alone at night time seems endless.
- As he watched the game slowly came to an end.
You should have marked the sentences like this:
- Inside, the house was clean and tastefully decorated.
- After running, the greyhounds settled back into their boxes.
- Alone at night, time seems endless.
- As he watched, the game slowly came to an end.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Ms. Mason the bank manager scheduled a meeting with new employees.
- MP3 players devices virtually unheard of a decade ago are very common today.
- Maggie loves to take long walks on the nature trail an oasis of calm.
- Health care coverage a major consideration for everyone has steadily worsened over the years.
- The poem was written by Sylvia Plath a very accomplished poet.
- My friend Cynthia threw me a surprise party last year.
You should have marked the sentences like this:
- Ms. Mason, the bank manager, scheduled a meeting with new employees.
- MP3 players, devices virtually unheard of a decade ago, are very common today.
- Maggie loves to take long walks on the nature trail, an oasis of calm.
- Health care coverage, a major consideration for everyone, has steadily worsened over the years.
- The poem was written by Sylvia Plath, a very accomplished poet.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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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