For this post, I’m going to concentrate on a comma issue that can cause problems for writers. The rule I’m speaking of is the one that states nonessential elements should be separated from the rest of the sentence with commas before and after the element in question.
Unlike most other comma issues, this one involves making a judgement call, which can be a little scary. Before you can be sure if you need to use commas to set it apart from the rest of the sentence, you have to determine if the element is essential or nonessential to the meaning of the sentence.
The way you can do this is to ask yourself if the meaning of the sentence would clearly change if you remove the element in question. If you add an element to a sentence and it does not really affect that sentence’s fundamental meaning, you know that the creature you are dealing with is nonessential to the sentence and, therefore, needs to be set apart from the rest of the sentence with commas before and after.
Lucy, who is John’s sister, is planning on meeting us out for coffee later.
In the above sentence, the fact that Lucy happens to be John’s sister has nothing to do with the fundamental meaning of the sentence, which is that she is meeting us for coffee later.
The man who arrested her is my brother-in-law.
In the above sentence, the phrase in the center of the sentence, “who arrested her” is an essential piece of information that would change the whole meaning of the sentence if we removed it.
So, as you can see, even though it does require a little bit of judgement, it really isn’t all that difficult to make the distinction. The main thing is just to be aware of the rule. If you keep it in mind, it won’t sneak up and bite you.
Also, I thought it only fair to tell everyone that today is the day that my family is getting together to move my brother and his family into they’re new home. Because I’ll be helping them move most of the day, I might not be the most responsive to comments until later on. I just wanted to mention this and apologize in advance. I don’t want anyone out there in WG2E land to think that I’m ignoring them.