I'm writing a research paper on the Quakers, a religious group that arose in the 1600's. Anyways, I was writing a sentence and I can't figure out the correct comma usage:

The “Inward Light” was believed by Quakers to be the inner apprehension, or fear, of God.

Should I have a second comma before "of God"? Or should I write it like this:

The “Inward Light” was believed by Quakers to be the inner apprehension, or fear of God.

I am not trying to define apprehension as the "fear of God", but rather trying to show the reader that may not understand the word apprehension in the context a less formal synonym, "fear". Thanks for the help.

  • I have no feeling one way or the other about the commas, but I'm pretty sure that apprehension does not mean "fear" in this context. – StoneyB on hiatus Oct 25 '15 at 23:52
  • @StoneyB Actually it does. The definition of apprehension is "anxiety or fear that something bad or unpleasant will happen". In my sentence it is used to describe the quakers belief that everyone has an intrinsic fear of God. The reason they were called the Quakers is because of their tendency to tremble with fear in the presence of God. – coder guy Oct 25 '15 at 23:56
  • 1
    A definition of apprehension is anxiety or fear of some future unpleasantness; but it did not become the most common sense until the 19th century. When theologians and historians write of Fox's "Inward Light" as an inner "apprehension" of God they have in mind the word's primary sense of "grasp" or "understanding". – StoneyB on hiatus Oct 26 '15 at 0:30

Everyone will have their own opinion on when to use commas and dashes. That said, I would use a dash, as the dash is used when renaming or further explaining an element in a sentence. So, "...--or fear --of God.

The two commas work, also.



It would depend on the actual meaning, i.e. on whether you'd be willing to put "if you will" after "fear" - or not, making apprehension and fear degrees of the same concept (or not):

Thus, with the comma, you'd have (degrees of the same thing):

The “Inward Light” was believed by Quakers to be the inner apprehension, or fear [(if you will)], of God.

... and, without the comma (two separate things):

The “Inward Light” was believed by Quakers to be the inner apprehension, or fear of God.


If one takes "inner apprehension" to be a comprehension of God, then the OP is contrasting two different concepts. (Like others, I mistook "or fear" to be a parenthetical description for apprehension.)

So which is better:

...the comprehension, or fear, of God.


...the comprehension, or fear of God.

Since the former sounds like a parenthetical explanation, the latter (without the comma) seems clearer to me.

It might be clearer to separate the words with an either/or.

...either the inner apprehension of God or the fear of God.

Because of the meaning of apprehension sounds different to modern ears, perhaps the apprehension and the fear could be distinguished.

... the inner apprehension (comprehension) of God. Some thought of the "Inward Light" as the fear of God, mentioned throughout the Old and New Testaments (e.g., Lev. 25:17, Rom. 3:18)


Quote 1 is the correct way. Apprehension is a poor word choice, it does not mean fear. The only exception to this would be if you mean that the Quakers had differing opinions on the "Inward Light", being fear or apprehension respectively. I cannot know this without context though. In such a case, the whole sentence would need a rewording.


If we're talking purely punctuation, this is a style issue. Every style guide I've seen recommends using two commas to set off a nonessential clause (Chicago Manual of Style 6.22). Also, balance your clauses: both get the or neither get the

...either the inner apprehension, or the fear, of God.

If you feel you are adding supplemental data but the sentence could be understood without it, then use two commas. If that is NOT the intent of your sentence, but you are instead redefining apprehension, then I believe only a dash will work (because otherwise the meaning is ambiguous), or you can rewrite the sentence.

...either the inner apprehension of God--or the fear of God.

However, if apprehension and fear are equally important to describe the relationship with God, then no commas {an essential clause}.

...either the inner apprehension or the fear of God.

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