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I'm not sure how to punctuate the following sentence:

Besides the managers, Pete, John and Eric, also the secretary, Mary, came along to the meeting.

I think I messed up completely with comma usage. My idea's to fixed are the following

  1. Besides the managers (Pete, John and Eric), also the secretary (Mary) came along to the meeting.
  2. Besides the managers -Pete, John and Eric- also the secretary -Mary- came along to the meeting.

The first one looks good, but I have the feeling that the parenthesis disrupt the flow of the reading. The second one looks not very slick.

What do you suggest as punctuation for this sentence?

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1  
I think you mean punctuation, not formatting. –  moioci Sep 21 '10 at 3:37

4 Answers 4

You don't need so many commas. You can say

Besides the managers Pete, John and Eric, the secretary Mary came along to the meeting.

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2  
ShreevatsaR has removed the unnecessary also, but didn't mention it. If you say besides, you don't need also. –  J D OConal Sep 20 '10 at 23:52
    
@J D OConal: Thanks for pointing it out; indeed I should have mentioned it. –  ShreevatsaR Sep 21 '10 at 2:10

Besides the managers, Pete, John, and Eric, the secretary, Mary, came along to the meeting.

Though your idea with the dashes would work too, but only use it once:

Besides the managers--Pete, John, and Eric--the secretary, Mary, came along to the meeting.

That sets the list of three apart a little more cleanly from the flow of the sentence.

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3  
(Serial comma FTW!) –  keithjgrant Sep 21 '10 at 18:16

I have to disagree with ShreevatsaR. His suggestion is incorrect. Let's break things down. Here it is in its original form:

Besides the managers, Pete, John and Eric, also the secretary, Mary, came along to the meeting.

Now, let's simplify this to the basics. Let's get rid of the lists of people and of a few extraneous words—also and along.

Besides the managers, the secretary came to the meeting.

Now, let's begin to add the folks back in. At this point, it should be clear that the people are appearing parenthetically. When you insert a parenthetical item into a sentence, you offset it with commas. This is a simple trick I use to explain to people who are struggling with comma usage how to use them or where to put them.

Mary is parenthetical, so we add her back in, set off with commas:

Besides the managers, the secretary, Mary, came to the meeting.

The managers are also parenthetical, so let's add them back in, too, set off with commas, of course:

Besides the managers, Pete, John, and Eric, the secretary, Mary, came to the meeting.

This is correct. If you don't like the way it reads, then you should just rewrite it. Let me throw out a couple ideas:

Not only Pete, John, and Eric (managers) came to the meeting, but also Mary (secretary).

or

Both managers (Pete, John, and Eric) and the secretary (Mary) came to the meeting.

I'm not saying these are better (or even all that good!), only that you might consider some alternatives if you don't like the original.

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You are right that it is best to insert parenthetical items within commas, but the names don't necessarily have to be parenthetical here. For instance you can say "the author Jane Austen" (or "The author Jane Austen was born in the 18th century"). This has a slightly different meaning from "The author, Jane Austen, was born in the 18th century". In the example in the question, I assumed that both meanings were close enough to be acceptable. –  ShreevatsaR Sep 24 '10 at 3:59
    
I see your point...and I guess your thinking was that if they mean about the same thing, why not simplify. I'll have to mull that over, ShreevatsaR. –  birdus Sep 24 '10 at 14:46

I first thought that Pete, John and Eric were not the managers, and that all of them, plus Mary attended the meeting with the managers. I'd suggest to use column and semi-columns in addition to commas, as follows.

Besides the managers: Pete, John and Eric; the secretary: Mary, came along to the meeting.

It makes the roles very explicit at first read.

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Is the use of a semicolon after Eric and a comma after Mary not inconsistent? –  Peter Smit Sep 20 '10 at 10:43
1  
You mean colon and semi-colon, not column and semi-column. –  ShreevatsaR Sep 20 '10 at 10:58
4  
I disagree; semicolons are typically used to separate clauses, but there is only one clause here. In addition, using colons breaks up the flow unnecessarily. –  Steve Melnikoff Sep 20 '10 at 11:55
1  
@Steve: I have seen semicolons used to separate lists when commas may be confusing (as in this example or "Chicago, IL; Tulsa, OK; Cleveland, OH"). I do agree that the colons break the flow of the sentence. –  michaelkoss Sep 21 '10 at 17:03
1  
@michaelkoss: while semicolons are a great (and underused) way of separating items in a list which contains commas, that's not the case in the above answer. In this answer, the semicolon isn't separating list entries, it's separating a list from an extra person. –  J.T. Grimes Sep 21 '10 at 22:42

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