Are you wondering what in the world this spoonful is about? It's a mouthful and a half, so get ready: Comma Rule #5 covers APPOSITIVE PHRASES!! Clear as mud, right?!? No worries! Read on and all will be explained.
I refer to these as interrupters - words added to provide extra detail. These interrupters are bookended by commas or dashes: if lifted out of a sentence, the sentence will remain complete.
Here's an example:
The waiters, all wearing blue aprons, handed out refreshments to the crowd.
If you lift out the section between the commas, you're left with this:
The waiters handed out refreshments to the crowd.
Is that still a complete sentence (AKA INDEPENDENT CLAUSE)? YES!
Let's look at one more example, this time using dashes.
(SPECIAL NOTE: These are supposed to be the longer EM dashes, not the typical shorter variety.)
The dog - panting with excitement - watched the boys play soccer.
Here's the complete sentence without the interrupter:
The dog watched the boys play soccer.
Does it matter whether you use commas or dashes? No, but commas are most common by far. The ACT, however, seems to favor dashes. The most important point to remember, whether you personally favor commas or dashes, is that the sentence must remain complete when the interrupter is removed.
If you see one dash on a standardized test - ACT or SAT - they could be testing if you recognize the need for a second dash. If that doesn't work, the dash could be functioning like a colon instead. I'll leave you with an example of a single (em) dash used as a colon.
Jason was the league's highest scorer - a shoo-in for a football scholarship.
(Notice how that information is expected, rather than a surprise or information list, as is the case with a colon? That's splitting hairs, perhaps, but you can be the judge.)
That's a wrap! There are still a few more comma rules to cover, so stay tuned for the next spoonful.
Laura Fineberg Cooper