Tag Archive - punctuation tips

Are You Appositive about This?

Appositives are grammatical elements that may be restrictive or nonrestrictive in a sentence. Not positive you know what an appositive is? It’s a noun or noun phrase that renames or restates the noun it follows.

  • Betty’s husband, Daniel, rushed to her side when she collapsed.

In this sentence Daniel is the appositive. It renames Betty’s husband. It’s not essential to the meaning of the sentence to know his name, so it’s set off in commas. We assume Betty only has one husband.

  • Betty’s daughter Danielle learned of her mother’s hospitalization via Facebook.

If we were to omit Danielle from this sentence, it would indicate that Betty has only one daughter. By making it a restrictive element (no commas) it tells us that Betty has more than one daughter, and she learned about her mother’s health via social media.

  • The doctor, who was a family friend, treated Betty using the latest medical technology.

Who was a family friend is a noun phrase that also names the doctor. It provides additional but not essential information about the doctor. Take that phrase out and the intent of the sentence is clear. Continue Reading…

Learn When to Be Restrictive

Do you find the rules regarding comma usage restrictive? Or just confusing?

Some comma confusion comes from understanding restrictive and nonrestrictive elements. Often these elements are relative clauses, which sometimes begin with wh words such as which, when, where or who. (The previous sentence is an example of a nonrestrictive clause)

The key to choosing whether or not to set off an element with a comma or pair of commas has to do with the nature of the element.

Is the word, phrase, or clause in question essential to the meaning of the sentence? If so, it’s a restrictive element, and there’s no comma needed.

Nonrestrictive elements provide additional but nonessential information. They take commas. Continue Reading…

Using Hyphens to Avoid Confusion

If I called you a short story editor, would I be remarking on your height? I would be, if I didn’t hyphenate the phrase “short story editor.” To avoid misunderstanding, I would write “short-story” to make clear what the short is modifying.

The rule for hyphenating compound adjectives (things that describe nouns) is to leave them open unless the meaning might be misconstrued, such as in the example I gave.

Take a look at these:

  • Free market economy (Is the market economy free, or are you talking about “free market” economy?)
  • Secret police force (Is the police force a secret, or are you referring to the secret police?)
  • Post office celebration (Is there a party at your local post office, or is this a party held after the office closes?)

You can see how hyphenating these compounds changes the meaning: free-market economy, secret-police force, and post-office celebration. Continue Reading…

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