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Commas, Parentheses & Dashes

Inserting comments in sentences

commas, parentheses, and dashes

 

 

 

Punctuation for Comments

COMMAS PARENTHESES DASHES

aside comment
      Add comments

afterthought
      De-emphasize comments

emphasis
      Emphasize comments

set o commasCommas set off a comment that is closely related to the central idea of the sentence. The comment modifies, qualifies, clarifies, or adds detail.

set of parenthesesParentheses enclose a comment that diverges from the central idea of the sentence: give an aside comment, explain circumstances or add an afterthought. Parentheses subordinate the explanatory element.

set of dashesDashes set off a comment that is loosely related to the central idea of the sentence. They mark an interrupting, contrasting, or stray thought. They add emphasis but are informal. They should be used sparing (rarely).

DESCRIPTION, CLARIFICATION, DETAIL CIRCUMSTANCE, EXPLANATION, DETAIL INTERRUPTION OR AFTERTHOUGHT

Crime, which weakens our city, must be reduced. detail

Crime (burglaries and robberies) must be reduced.   explanation

Crime—costing the city millions of dollars each year— must be reduced.

Crooks, who fill their own pockets, take money from the pockets of working people.   (comment refers to "all")

Crooks (only a few jailed last year) take money from the pockets of working people.

Crooks—the greedy lot— take money from the pockets of working people.

Community service, which helps fill in special needs of our citizens, makes our city strong.

Community service (filling in the gaps) makes our city strong.

Community service—a blessing for the giver and receiver—makes our city strong.

The "bike to work" program, which makes use of our newly added bike lanes, will reduce traffic.

The "bike to work" program (a project of the transportation department) will reduce traffic.

Our "bike to work" program will reduce traffic—something everyone wants!

 

 

 

Adding Comments to Sentences

While we would like to think that our thoughts flow from the mind in a linear manner, this is often not the case. We think of something that we want to add while mentioning a topic, and then we insert it into the sentence.

Commas, parentheses and dashes are used in writing to mark these comments as extra-information or as an afterthought to the sentence.

Commas are the preferred way to set-off information from the rest of the sentence.  However, parentheses and dashes are used too. The use of dashes is considered to be more informal than the use of commas and parentheses.  A writer should use these only when necessary because straying from the topic too many times makes it difficult for the reader to follow the thought. 

crooks (n.) – a dishonest person, a person who cheats people out of money or property

gap (v.) – hole, a space between two objects

linear (adj.) – straight, like a line not a branch

non-essential (adj.) – extra, not necessary, can be omitted

set off (verbal phrase.) – separate as different, non-essential to the central idea of the clause

stray (v.)  – go away from, wander off

A nonidentifying clause is set off with commas.  It does not restrict in number or type of the noun before it.  It refers to "all".  "This is true of all."

An identifying clause is not set off with commas.  The modifying clause is needed to identify a particular one, group, or type.

Also see more formal uses for parentheses and dashes.

 

The pictures above are used to show relative emphasis. The text is not taken from beliefs or quotes of the individual shown.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comment

Relevance to Central Idea

 

 

 

Relevance to Central Idea

COMMAS PARENTHESES DASHES

set off with commas Comments set off by commas tend to be closely related to the central idea of the sentence: modifying phrases and clauses.

set off with parenthesesComments set off by parentheses tend to digress, or go off the the central thought of the sentence: explanations, background information and details. Parentheses subordinate the explanatory element.

set off with commasComments set off by dashes tend to separate, go away from the central thought of the sentence: interrupting thoughts, contrasting and by-the-way comments.

MODIFYING COMMENT—STAYS ON TOPIC EXPLANATORY COMMENT—DIGRESSION INTERRUPTION—DIVERGENT

Tax payers, who hand over their hard earned money, want to know where their tax dollars are being spent.  

(True for all tax papers.  See Non-restrictive Clauses)

Tax payers(only 85 million of them according to a disputed Drudge report) want to know where their tax dollars are being spent.

Taxpayers want to know where their tax dollars are being spent —and why not?

The governor encourages the use of public transportation, which cuts down on auto traffic in the city center.

The governor encourages the use of public transportation (MTA is the most complex commuter network system in North America).

The governor encourages the use of public transportation—he walks to his office next door every morning.

digress (v.) – to wander away from the main topic or purpose in speaking or writing; depart from the principal line of argument, plot, study, etc.
diverge (v.) – to move in a different direction from the common point; branch off; go off on its own
hand over (verbal phrase) – surrender, give away rights to something
MTA – the Metropolitan Transit Authority in New York City

Also see Speech Act Comments Figuratively Speaking

 

 

 

 

 

 

Commas

Appositives

 

 

 

Adding Another Name for It – Appositive

ANOTHER NAME FOR IT

commas for appositives Use commas when mentioning another name for a person, place or thing, such as a title, position, nickname or other related information.    

Jay, my brother, will call at the end of the week.  also known as

Jay Byrd, CEO of Kayaking Inc., will announce his plans.  a title

The Aleutian Islands, formerly known as the Catherine Islands,  consist of more than 300 islands.  also known as

Alaska, "The Last Frontier", became a state in 1959.  a nickname

DETAILS

commas for appositives Use commas when mentioning another name for a date, place or hour.  

We had a goodbye party on Tuesday, November 2, 2008. date

We had a goodbye party in November 2008. (no commas)

We held the meeting at the Apple Campus, 1 Infinite Loop, in the afternoon. address

They called in the afternoon, 2 p.m., to set up an appointment. hour

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Common Mistakes

Errors and Solutions

 

 

 

Error and Solution

ERROR

The bumper of the car—which fell off on the freeway—was later picked up by its owner. 
This is not an error but it requires a particular context.

The police officer, can you believe it, was unsympathetic.

SOLUTION

The bumper of the car, which fell off on the freeway, was later picked up by its owner.   

Commas set off comments that are closely related to the central idea of the sentence. Dashes are used to draw attention, emphasis to the clause.

The police office—can you believe it— was unsympathetic.

Dashes mark information that interrupts the central idea of the sentence (informal usage).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Punctuation Notes

Comments—commas, parentheses and dashes

Advanced

 

 

TYPING COMMAS, PARENTHESES, AND DASHES USAGE NOTES

A comma exists as a standard key on a keyboard. 

Parentheses usually ( ) exist as standard keys on a keyboard. 

Other modes of entering a left parenthesis are: Unicode (U+0028),  Windows (Alt+0028;), HTML (()  and a right parentheses is Unicode (U+0029),  Windows (Alt+0029;), HTML ()). 

A dash does not usually exist on a standard keyboard but can be represented with two hyphens. (A hyphen is a standard key.)

Other modes of entering an en dash are: Windows (Alt 1050), Mac (Option -)  Unicode is (U+2013), HTML (–)

 

"Parentheses usually set off material that is less closely related to the rest of the sentence than that enclosed in em dashes or commas." (Chicago Manual 6.97–6.103)

"Parentheses and dashes serve many of the same functions, but they differ in one significant respect: parentheses can set off only nonessential elements, whereas dashes can set off essential and nonessential elements.…dashes emphasize; parentheses de-emphasize."  (Sabin 218–226)

"Dashes make a sharper break in the continuity of the sentence than commas do, and parentheses make a still sharper one."  (MLA 3.2.5)

Also see the following:

• AP Stylebook Punctuation Guide: comma 325, parentheses 330, dash 327

• APA "Comma" 4.03, "Parentheses" 4.09, "Hyphenation" 4.13

• Burchfield "comma" 161, "parenthesis" 571, "dash" 197

• Sabin "Basic Rules for Commas That Set Off" 122, "Parentheses: With Explanatory Material" 218, "In Place of Parentheses" 206

 

 

Resources 

 

Style Manual Abbreviations (used in this website)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 1

User-friendly City Streets

Walk to work
 

 

Read Context

Elena knows that her commute will be halted as she approaches the Burnham Bridge. This particular bridge is a mile and a half long and has four lanes but no pedestrian walkways. (If she wants to cross, she will have to walk on a narrow curb with cars whizzing by.)

Regardless of whether the bridge crossing is possible, Elena and hundreds of other participants in the movement called "Walk or Bike to Work Day" will make an important point: the city is simply not walkable or bike-able!

You see, it takes Elena thirty minutes to get to work, though she lives just six miles away, and while she would like to walk to work, there is an incomplete network of walkways.

Instead, she takes a bus to the subway, rides four stops, gets off, and takes a bus or walks the last five blocks to her office. By car, the same commute would take ten minutes.

However, she has no car (nor car repair bills, nor insurance payments), and there would be no place to park a car near her downtown office if she did.

She estimates that she spends twenty minutes per commute waiting for her transportation to arrive—there are bus schedules but they are more like "estimates"—and when a bus does arrive, there is rarely a seat available for her.

Elena wishes there were a more efficient way to get to work, more direct public transportation, more affordable private transportation, or more pedestrian-friendly routes.

For this reason, Elena is participating in the grass-roots movement ("Walk or Bike to Work Day") today.  The objective of the demonstration is to press city planners to make improvements to city streets.

All participants in this walk-or-bike-to-work experiment are being asked to wear brightly colored clothing (neon orange, yellow, green

The quality of life of every urban commuter in they city will improve greatly—if this succeeds!

commute (n.) – the trip to work each day

curb (n.) the raised edge of a road, between where people can walk and cars can drive

estimate (n.) – an educated guess, a calculated response

grass-roots – the ordinary people in an organization, rather than the leaders

halt (v.) – stop; hinder

walkways – sidewalks, paths, and other areas reserved for pedestrians

 

 

 

 

Edit the sentence for comma, parenthesis, and dash use.

  1. Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence. 
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "Check 1-10" button at the bottom, or click the check button to the left  as you go.

 

1.
Elena knows that her commute will be halted as she approaches the Burnham Bridge. This particular bridge is a mile and a half long and has four lanes but no pedestrian walkways. (If she wants to cross, she will have to walk on a narrow curb with cars whizzing by.)


2.
Regardless of whether the bridge crossing is possible, Elena and hundreds of other participants in the movement called "Walk or Bike to Work Day" will make an important point: the city is simply not walkable or bike-able!


3.
You see, it takes Elena thirty minutes to get to work, though she lives just six miles away, and while she would like to walk to work, there is an incomplete network of walkways.


4.
Instead, she takes a bus to the subway, rides four stops, gets off, and takes a bus or walks the last five blocks to her office. By car, the same commute would take ten minutes.


5.
However, she has no car (nor car repair bills, nor insurance payments), and there would be no place to park a car near her downtown office if she did.


6.
She estimates that she spends twenty minutes per commute waiting for her transportation to arrive—there are bus schedules but they are more like "estimates"—and when a bus does arrive, there is rarely a seat available for her.


7.
Elena wishes there were a more efficient way to get to work, more direct public transportation, more affordable private transportation, or more pedestrian-friendly routes.


8.
For this reason, Elena is participating in the grass-roots movement ("Walk or Bike to Work Day") today.  The objective of the demonstration is to press city planners to make improvements to city streets.


9.
All participants in this walk-or-bike-to-work experiment are being asked to wear brightly colored clothing (neon orange, yellow, green, or highly reflective). 


10.
The quality of life of every urban commuter in the city will improve greatly (if this succeeds!)


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 2

Gotcha!

Gotcha!
 

 

Read Informal Writing

Last week one of my friends texted me asked if I wanted to see Iron Man 4 (like aren't there enough Iron Man movies already) and I was like OK (but I really didn't want to go (I just dint want to disappoint him so I agreed.))

So he said he'd come by my place at five and I was ready and waiting at the door at five, still waiting at 5:30 and by 6:00 o'clock I'm like OMG where is he (because I'm losing my Friday night). 

So I called him and he was all "I'm sorry. I forgot. I'm here at Iron Man with so-and-so " (whatever her name is).

"Hey man, that's just wrong!" I told him (not to mention what a waste of my Friday night!) I was angry at him.

The next evening, I texted him to come over for pizza (his favorite) right before I took off for the night.

Later, he texted me ha ha, I was hungry, you got me, we're even.

I texted back "almost" (Cuz he still owes me a movie.) Don't get angry, get even.  (an old saying)

The saying means like you shouldn't stay angry because that just poisons you. Rather you should do something to let the other person get how you feel (not violent though.)

 

Cuz – because [slang]

Don't get angry, get even. – Anger is poison. It is better to let the other person experience how you felt when wronged.  This is best done in a humorous way.

gotcha – Got you back!  Make a person feel how they made you feel.

we're even (n.)  two wrongs make a right?  the wrong is settled

like (v.) same as "said" or "spoke" [slang]  He's like "What is that?"

In some teenage girls, a word spoken in between each word in a sentence. "Yeah, like, i think, like, Justin Bieber is, like, sooooooo, like, cool."

 

 

 

 

 

Put the slang into more formal wording.

  1. Edit the sentence(s) in the text box.
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "Check 11-18" button at the bottom, or click the "Check" button to the left  as you go.

 

11.
Last week one of my friends texted me asked if I wanted to see Iron Man 4 (like aren't there enough Iron Man movies already) and I was like OK (but I really didn't want to go (I just dint want to disappoint him so I agreed.)) 


12.
So he said he'd come by my place at five and I was ready and waiting at the door at five, still waiting at 5:30 and by 6:00 o'clock I'm like OMG where is he (because I'm losing my Friday night).


13.
So I called him and he was all "I'm sorry. I forgot. I'm here at Iron Man with so-and-so " (whatever her name is).


14.
"Hey man, that's just wrong!" I told him (not to mention what a waste of my Friday night!) I was angry at him.


15.
The next evening, I texted him to come over for pizza (his favorite) right before I took off for the night.


16.
Later, he texted me ha ha, I was hungry, you got me, we're even.


17.
I texted back "almost" (Cuz he still owes me a movie.) Don't get angry, get even.  (an old saying)


18.
The saying means like you shouldn't stay angry because that just poisons you. Rather you should do something to let the other person experience and understand how you feel (not violent though.)