0

Can someone please clear up my confusion with commas when they are used to set aside nonessential elements.

An example sentence:

After conceding defeat to his rivals, James took it upon himself to practise harder, knowing it would increase his chances of a better outcome next time.

Are the introductory adverbial and the trailing clause beginning "knowing" both using commas in the same way, to set off nonessential elements?

Therefore, a nonessential element can appear at the beginning, middle, or end of the sentence?

I've read two punctuation books--'The Penguin Guide to Punctuation' and 'Eats, Shoots, & Leaves'--and they both describe this use of the comma as 'the bracketing comma'. Both books state that these types of commas are used to set of 'interruptions', but they don't go into specifics. Are elements 'interruptors' if they can be removed and an independent clause remains afterwards (i.e., 'a sentence which still makes sense', in their words)?

1

Your sentence:

After conceding defeat to his rivals, James took it upon himself to practise harder, knowing it would increase his chances of a better outcome next time.

The phrase "knowing it would increase his chances . . ." is not non-essential; that is, it's essential to the meaning of the sentence. Nor is the phrase parenthetical. I submit an example of a non-essential, parenthetical phrase in the following sentence.

After conceding defeat to his rivals--knowing it would increase his chance of a better outcome next time, James took it upon himself to practice harder.

I've used the em dash (which I'm not sure how to make, properly, in one longish line) to set off the parenthetical information. The difference between my sentence and yours is that I chose not to make the "knowing" phrase essential; rather, I wanted to stress the concession of defeat and its relation to James's decision to practice harder because of the defeat. In other words, the increased chances of a better outcome next time isn't really that important, given the way I've constructed the sentence.

By the way, I put a comma after "time" and before "James" because a comma would have been needed after the word "rivals," had I decided to eliminate the non-essential information, as in,

After conceding defeat to his rivals, James took it upon himself to practice harder.

Finally, here's a sentence which would require a pair of em dashes:

James conceded defeat to his rivals--knowing it would increase his chance of a better outcome next time--and decided simply to practice harder for a better outcome next time.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.