+44 (0)1273 732 888
Author : Catie Holdridge
Posted : 14 / 09 / 11
Write Away reader Bill Friar got in touch to air one of his professional writing bugbears:
‘I would dearly love to see an item on the creeping trend of putting commas between people’s names and their titles or descriptive terms. For example: “Prime Minister, David Cameron, spoke outside Downing Street….” or “action star, Tom Cruise, went on a rampage…”
‘I don’t remember seeing this kind of thing very often even five years ago. Now it’s everywhere. The madness must stop.’
Thanks, Bill. You make an excellent point – those double commas hugging Tom Cruise and David Cameron shouldn’t be there.
But why is this punctuation wrong?
It’s wrong because Tom and David, in the above examples, are restrictive appositives.
An appositive is a word, phrase or clause that renames, explains or identifies another noun in the same sentence. They can be restrictive or nonrestrictive. For example:
Emphasis Training, the business-writing trainers, are based in Brighton.
You’ll notice that the appositive above is tucked away between commas. This is because ‘the business-writing trainers’ is a nonrestrictive appositive: if you remove it from the sentence you’d still know who the subject (Emphasis) is, and it would still make sense.
However, some appositives are restrictive – they can’t be left out of the sentence without changing the meaning or leaving people confused. Restrictive appositives should not have commas round them.
In Bill’s examples, the names can’t be removed because it would leave the sentences incomplete, as they don’t start with a determiner (eg the, a, our etc):
Prime Minister spoke outside Downing Street…
Action star went on a rampage…
And even if they did, we might still need more information to properly identify the subjects in question, and not leave the reader guessing. For all we know, Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina was speaking outside Downing Street about Bruce Willis’s recent rampage.
Now that’s how rumours get started.
Catie joined Emphasis with an English literature and creative writing degree and a keen interest in what makes language work. Having researched and written dozens of articles for the Emphasis blog, she now knows more about the intricacies of effective professional writing than she ever thought possible.
She produced and co-wrote our online training programme, Emphasis 360, and these days oversees all the Emphasis marketing efforts. And she keeps office repartee at a suitably literary level.
Posted by: Catie Holdridge
28 / 05 / 10
Compared with pondering the placement of the much less familiar semi-colon or the enigmatic apostrophe, the ubiquitous comma might seem hardly worth worrying about. They’re ten a penny, aren’t they? Why not just sprinkle them at will or leave them out entirely? Unsurprisingly, we don’t recommend doing either. They may seem a common or garden […]
15 / 01 / 10
The colon is a common cause of bellyache. The semicolon can leave people dazed and confused. But rather than cutting them completely from your punctuation diet, refer to the following guidelines and you’ll soon find just the right dosage for all your writing needs. The colon The colon is very useful for introducing things, for […]
Advice and tips (174)
Choose your words wisely (46)
Plain English (26)
Language abuse (22)
Report writing (21)
60-second fix (21)
Bids and tenders (20)
Psychology and linguistics (19)
Reader-centred writing (17)
Online and social media (16)
News from Emphasis (13)
Technical writing (13)
Presentations and speeches (12)
Customer relations (11)
International issues (11)
Letters and CVs (10)
Numbers and finance (9)
Design and formatting (9)
Courses for companies (8)
Writing news stories (5)
Literacy and education (5)
Legal writing (4)
Style guide (4)
Development of English (4)
Pitches and proposals (3)
Writing for media (3)
PDF downloads (3)
Social media (3)
Conferences and exhibitions (2)
Learning and development (2)
Book reviews (1)
Policies and procedures (1)
Live chat (1)