ChanteSez … Don’t commit bigamy in your writing

3 Apr

It’s illegal in the U.S. to have more than one spouse. But it happens all the time if you pay attention to what’s written. A pair of commas makes all the difference.

When you don’t set off a spouse’s name by commas, the indication is that there is more than one spouse.

If you’re providing the name of a husband or wife in a story, it’s probably a nonessential phrase.

A nonessential phrase is an extra bit of info that adds some detail to the sentence, but isn’t required to make the sentence understandable.

How to tell if you’ve got a nonessential phrase? You can take the phrase out of the sentence and it still makes sense. It’s “nonessential” to the sentence.

And nonessential phrases must have a comma before and after them.

Here’s what I mean:

She married her husband, Thomas Williams, in 2013.

The nonessential phrase here is the husband’s name. If it’s removed, the sentence still makes sense:

She married her husband in 2013.

Now, if you take the commas out, but keep the nonessential phrase in, you’re indicating there’s more than one husband. Thomas Williams just happens to be the one we’re talking about in this sentence:

She married her husband Thomas Williams in 2013 (and hey, maybe she married her other husband back in 2003).

Keep it legal, folks.

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One Response to “ChanteSez … Don’t commit bigamy in your writing”

  1. Chris C. April 7, 2013 at 10:39 pm #

    Good one, Chante! Taking out the commas as a test — I love it. And I appreciate you showing us the “negative” case, the example of how to do it *wrong*.

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