Monday, May 21, 2012

Commas for Nouns in Apposition

Dear Gentle Readers,

Madame L hopes you will be patient with her while she vents on the subject of the correct use of commas.

It's not that Madame L is grammatically perfect in every respect, but she does wish that writers and editors would be more careful in their use of commas.

Madame L realizes that some writers just don't want to overuse these punctuation marks, because it may make them appear officiously and self-righteously over correct. But it's obvious that many of the errors in the use of commas come from pure ignorance. And Madame L is, as you all know, willing to cure that ill by educating the public.

Madame L is not a great reader of gossipy news, but she did click on the ABC News article this weekend about the marriage of Mark Zuckerberg, and Madame L was appalled at the omission of a comma in the following sentence:

"The 28-year-old tied the knot with his longtime girlfriend, the recently graduated Dr. Priscilla Chen in a private ceremony at the couple's home in Palo Alto, Calif."

The missing comma? It should come after the name of Dr. Priscilla Chen. The sentence should read:

"The 28-year-old tied the knot with his longtime girlfriend, the recently graduated Dr. Priscilla Chen, in a private ceremony at the couple's home in Palo Alto, Calif."

This use of the comma is called appositive. It sets apart the name of a person, place, or thing (a noun) from the preceding bit that it goes with.

Did that make sense? Please, Dear Readers, tell Madame L if it didn't make sense. Madame L has searched online for a reasonable and sensible explanation of this use of the comma. There are plenty of websites with this kind of information, but not all of them are worth reading. Here are two of the best:

Look at this one for a great, logical, and grammatically correct explanation which however is difficult to read if you don't have a degree in philosophy or logic or linguistics.

Here's another explanation, this one more readable and understandable, without all the logic jargon, though it's a bit long. Here are some examples and a good definition (from "The Loyal Apposition") which show why the second comma is necessary in the Zuckerburg-Chen marriage story:

     Usually an appositive adds parenthetical, nondefining, information, so it is nonrestrictive. A nonrestrictive (parenthetical) element is set off by commas.  For example:

    Mr. Smith, a well-respected lawyer, has just retired from active practice.
    Professor James, an expert in Victorian poetry, will be giving a lecture tonight.
 
Madame L thanks you for letting her vent. She will undoubtedly be writing in the future about other issues of grammar, spelling, and punctuatioin; and will enjoy receiving questions from any and all of her Dear Readers who wish to know as much about grammar as Madame L does.

Sincerely,

Madame L

1 comment:

Jeff said...

I can't see how The Zuck getting married to ANYONE is a positive...


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