Punctuation Pitfalls – The Comma, Part 4

Commas Used with Non-restrictive Phrases.

Recently I accepted a friend invitation on Facebook from a writer who co-authored a book on punctuation! For those who struggle with the mechanics of writing, John Shore and Richard Lederer’s Comma Sense: A Fun-damental Guide to Punctuation (St. Martin’s, 2005) might be the book you need.

Also, from time to time I find others who edit. I’ll be adding their links, so you may wish to check the list of Freelance Editors in the sidebar.

On to comma instruction. Since we talked about “non-essentials” last time, I think it’s appropriate to piggy-back on that point to discuss “restrictive” and “non-restrictive” phrases.

A group of words working together qualifies as a phrase. Ones that are necessary to define what they describe are called restrictive—that is, they restrict the noun to one particular person or place or thing. Here’s an example of a restrictive phrase:

    The boy waiting for the bus looks cold.

A non-restrictive phrase is one that isn’t needed to narrow down the who or what or where because it is already clear. In essence, the non-restrictive phrase is like the parenthetical elements discussed in Part 3 of this comma series—that is, it adds bonus information that the reader doesn’t need in order to make sense of the sentence. Instead, it is information the writer wishes to communicate, but the basic meaning would be intact if he left it out. Here are a couple examples of non-restrictive phrases (take note of the comma placement):

    My brother, wearing a heavy coat, waited an hour in the cold.

    My brother waited an hour for the bus, wearing a heavy coat.

Hopefully you noticed that the non-restrictive phrase may be positioned right after the noun it describes or further in the sentence. If the phrase is in the middle of the sentence, commas are required before and after; if at the end of the sentence, one comma before the phrase.

Hey, no exceptions with this one. That’s refreshing! 😀

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