This preview shows page 141 - 143 out of 186 pages.
5.3.4 The absence of a comma with a non-restrictive elementA non-restrictive element, also known as a non-defining relative clause, is apiece of information that is added parenthetically; it could be omitted from thesentence and the sentence would still make sense. The non-restrictive elementis most commonly indicated by its setting within two commas, but brackets ordashes can also be used. In the sentence ‘Shakespeare, who is considered bymany to be the greatest ever playwright, was born in 1564’, the non-restrictiveclause could be omitted for the sentence to remain grammatically correct andmeaningful as ‘Shakespeare was born in 1564.’ The mistake that is commonlymade is the omission of the second comma, for example: ‘Shakespeare, who isconsidered by many to be the greatest ever playwright was born in 1564.’ Theexample I have given is a straightforward one; in other more ambiguous cases,the use or lack of commas to indicate whether the element is non-restrictive orrestrictive can significantly alter the sentence’s meaning.5.3.5 Unnecessary comma(s) with a restrictive elementA restrictive element, or defining clause, as you might guess from the defini-tion of its opposite above, is a piece of information that is crucial to themeaning of a sentence. The mistake of marking it out with commas wouldsignal its status as additional rather than essential information, leading to con-fusion and inaccuracy. Consider the different meanings implied in the two ver-sions of this sentence: ‘The two students, who were found guilty of plagiarism,failed the course.’ / ‘The two students who were found guilty of plagiarismfailed the course.’ In the first version, the fact that the students were guilty ofplagiarism is not signalled as the reason for their failure. This is presented asadditional information and as such may be just a coincidence. In the secondversion, the plagiarism is presented as a restrictive element: it is crucial infor-mation and thus indicates that it is the reason why the students failed theSentences127
course. Both sentences are grammatically correct but the different deploymentof commas presents different meanings. Using commas around what is a restrictive element will perplex your reader.In the sentence ‘In Song of Solomon, Morrison’s character, Guitar, is consumedwith greed for gold’, the name of the protagonist has been placed withincommas signalling that it is a non-restrictive element. This would be fine ifthere was only one character in Song of Solomon, but as there are several keyfigures the name of Guitar is crucial information and thus is a restrictiveelement that should not be contained within commas. 5.3.6 The absence of a comma in a seriesAlso known as the serial comma, the Oxford comma and the Harvard comma,this is another issue about which there is, if not dispute, regional variation. Inthe US, it is the rule to place a comma before the last item in a list, as in: ‘Criticswho have inﬂ