Commas and Nonessential Elements

Trying to Understand Nonessential Commas

Sometimes there is information in the middle of a sentence that is not necessary for the reader to understand the main idea. This information should be enclosed in commas to show its nonessential nature. It’s a good idea to think about these commas as basket handles, indicating to the reader that the enclosed information could be lifted entirely out of the sentence without altering its meaning. Basically, ask this question:

Is there any information in the sentence that can be removed while keeping the sentence meaning intact?

Let’s have a look at a few examples:

  • Company managers, seeking higher profits, hired temporary workers to replace full-time staff.
  • Strawberries, which are Sarah’s favorite fruit, have their seeds on the outside.
  • I would like, therefore, to check the work.

If the information enclosed in the commas is covered up or removed from every one of the sentences above, the main meaning of the sentence would stay the same.

Be warned: disagreement about nonessential commas can lead to physical aggression :(. Depending on the context and the person reading the sentences above, there are definitely occasions when the parts between commas could be essential and hence the whole sentence without any commas would be correct. Much LOL hair-pulling (our own of course) has resulted from trying to decide when nonessential commas are required.

It is with trepidation that I will offer some examples in the next post.