Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A Grammar Lesson Comma Again

For one who aspires to write, yet one who largely ignored the instruction offered in his various English classes in his youth, it seems it is never too late to learn.  Commas, their usage and placement, have long been a mystery to me.  I have used them freely when the need seems apparent to me, and I have used them on occasion when I was in doubt, though as a general rule when in doubt I leave them out.  Now, however, I am working at the task of learning proper comma usage with respect to appositives.  It seems, one may learn if he applies himself to a grammar text, that there are two types of appositives: non-restrictive and restrictive.

In the case of the non-restrictive appositive commas are required to set the word or phrase of which it consists apart from the rest of the sentence.

  •   Example:  The dog, a brindle shepherd, greeted us at the gate.

As you see in this example, the phrase “a brindle shepherd” serves to describe the dog, but it is not necessary to the sense of the statement, for the sentence “The dog greeted us at the gate” makes sense without the descriptor.  Non-restrictive appositive.

In the case of the restrictive appositive, the sentence requires the appositive in order to convey the thought. No commas are used.

  •   Example:  The book The Da Vinci Code written by Dan Brown is based on a false premise.


Here we have that the appositive “The Da Vinci Code” is required to convey the writer’s message.  Dan Brown has written many other books.  Restrictive appositive.

(Or is the appositive "The Da Vinci Code written by Dan Brown"?  Oh, snap.  Well, no commas in either event.
(Or is the phrase "written by Dan Brown" a non-restrictive appositive within an appositive? And if so should the sentence read: The book the Da Vinci Code, written by Dan Brown, is based on a false premise."?

Thus I have demonstrated my lack of grammatical knowledge.  Do you see why I paid little attention in class?

10 comments:

Jacquelineand.... said...

Alas, I must confess to a lack of attentiveness myself.

Sharkbytes said...

Since the rules have all changed since we learned them, I'm always totally at sea.

Grace said...

I go with the Mrs. Forlano method - how does it sound when you say it? If you pause then it needs a comma.

vanilla said...

Jacquelineand, perhaps the reason we can write is that we were reading whilst the instructor was droning on about punctuation? *grin*

Sharkebytes, indeed. Language: nothing is set in stone.

Grace, meritorious method. Infallible logic, easy to remember.

Secondary Roads said...

In twenty years of technical editing, I saw the rules for comma usage change a few times. It usually left me with a headache.

vanilla said...

Chuck, learning the rules is bad enough; learning amendments to the rules, headache inducing.

Vee said...

The use of commas is confusing and controversial. We disagree at our house on the "when in doubt rule." Hubby thinks that when in doubt they should always be included. That might be because he never doubts. I think that when in doubt maybe they should be left out. We argue a lot about this and the internet is not always helpful when we need a winner. We do agree about commas in a series. When did that change? I'm always adding that last comma when I read magazine articles. Not literally, but in my head.

vanilla said...

Vee, that is the crux of the matter: the rules change. The arbiters of grammatical usage and construct are arbitrary. This is a pretty solid argument for the "when in doubt" rule that you and I follow.

Lin said...

Head 'gonna 'splode....

I dunno, I think I use the Grace method. I stick them in where I pause.

vanilla said...

Lin, the method you have chosen works fine for you. Don't change a thing. Do run, though, before your head explodes.