Saturday, 7 June 2014

How to use separating commas

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Separating commas are used where a sentence includes a non-essential clause or phrase. The clause may be necessary to explain something or clarify a point, but the rest of the sentence would read just as well without it.

For example, here is a sentence that needs separating commas:
David Plant owner of the Plant Life Garden Centres chain says homegrown vegetables have become more popular since the economic downturn.


How to identify the non-essential clause.

In the example, the non-essential clause tells us that David Plant owns a chain of garden centres. This is important information as it tells us who David Plant is and why he is an authority on the subject. However it is non-essential as the sentence holds up without it.

So here is the same sentence with the separating commas in place:
David Plant, owner of the Plant Life Garden Centres chain, tells us that homegrown vegetables have become more popular since the economic downturn.


How to position your separating commas


When you use separating commas correctly the text either side of the commas should still form a valid sentence. Note how the text in red reads as a sentence, without the text in blue: 

David Plant, owner of the Plant Life Garden Centres chain, tells us that homegrown vegetables have become more popular since the economic downturn.


How to avoid the most common mistake

One of the main mistakes people make is misplacing the first comma.

Look at this example:

Some people had said it would be foolish to camp in the haunted forest overnight but for the purposes of the ghost hunting experiment they decided to do it anyway.

The common mistake would be to place the commas like this:

Some people had said it would be foolish to camp in the haunted forest overnight, but for the purposes of the ghost hunting experiment, they decided to do it anyway.

But then the text either side of the non-essential clause doesn't form a proper sentence:

Some people had said it would be foolish to camp in the haunted forest overnight, but for the purposes of the ghost hunting experiment, they decided to do it anyway.

In a case like this you would need to place the first comma after the word 'but':

Some people had said it would be foolish to camp in the haunted forest overnight but, for the purposes of the ghost hunting experiment, they decided to do it anyway.



I am an experienced copywriter and copy editor based in Leicester, UK.

If you need help with your next writing project, why not consider me? You can find out more about me, my skills and the work I have done on my website.


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