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Use Commas Around Nonrestrictive Parenthetical Elements

"Use Commas around Nonrestrictive Parenthetical Elements" was written by Joseph Moxley, University of South Florida

You should limit the number of times that you interrupt the flow of a sentence by placing modifying words between the subject and its verb. When you do introduce such appositives, participial phrases, or adjective phrases or clauses, you must determine whether the modifiers are restrictive or nonrestrictive. Essentially, restrictive modifiers add information that is essential to the meaning of the sentence, whereas nonrestrictive modifiers add information that is not essential. The best way to determine whether a modifier is restrictive or nonrestrictive is to see if taking it out changes the meaning of the sentence.

Restrictive: Lawyers who work for McGullity, Anderson, and Swenson need to take a course in copyediting.

In this case the relative clause is essential to the meaning of the sentence. If you embedded the clause in commas, then the meaning would change, suggesting that all lawyers need a course in copyediting.

Restrictive: The lawyer who has worked on this case for three years thinks that we have no chance of winning.

In this case the relative clause is essential to the meaning of the sentence. In other words, the sentence refers to only the lawyer who has worked on this case. The discussion is restricted to her.

Nonrestrictive: The lawyers, who have an office downtown, think that we have no chance of winning.

Because the location of the lawyer's office is superfluous to the gist of the sentence, it should be set off by commas.

 

Other comma resources:

Photos on this page courtesy of University of Pennsylvania, University Communications.

Plugs Play Pedagogy Blog

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Kyle Stedman is assistant professor of English at Rockford University, where he teaches first-year composition, digital rhetoric, and creative writing. He studies rhetorics of sound, intellectual property, and fan studies. On QuizUp, his highest scores are in Lost (the TV show)..."

Oscar Wilson's draft card
Episode 10: Exploring the Past
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  Transcript available here as a Google Doc full of links. If you see edits I should make or links I should add, go ahead and leave a comment. Part 1: Researching My House I'm obsessed with my 99-year-old house. So I made a 27-minute audio piece exploring my relationship to it. That's it. Music you hear in this segment, all estimated to be from 1916 (the year the house was built): William Thomas, “Rose of No Man’s Land” Bresnen, “You’re a Dangerous Girl” Don Richardson, “Arkansas Traveler” Imperial Quartet of Chicago, “...
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