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Before a vaccine was finally discovered by an American scientist, Jonas Salk, in 1955, more than 80 percent of polio patients received help from the foundation.

Why is "Jonas Salk" set off by commas in this sentence? I think of it as of an essential clause and thus believe no commas should be inserted.

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  • The focus is on the vaccine, not on the scientist who discovered it and even without his name the sentence is sensible enough. Apr 9, 2017 at 13:07
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    If the sentence had read "the American scientist Jonas Salk," you wouldn't use commas. But the indefinite article "an" implies that the name is inessential. Apr 9, 2017 at 13:17
  • @Dwight Please review the rules on attribution. You must reference your quotes. This is even more important when you are asking about something you're quoting, because people may need to look up the rest of the passage for context and background (eg., how well is the rest of it written?)
    – Andrew Leach
    Apr 9, 2017 at 17:58

3 Answers 3

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Like Peter Shor said, because it's badly written.

It's definitely distracting to have a needless appositive phrase just before another needful one, with the date hanging confusedly between them. That being said, the grammar follows logically from the writer focusing attention on the concept of American scientist and merely naming Salk as one of them instead of describing him as 'the American scientist Jonas Salk'.

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It has nothing to do with names. In this case, it just happens that there is a name between the commas.

The real reason and purpose is that there is a parenthetical part in the sentence. The sentence is so structured that it can be parsed and understood correctly with as well as without the parenthetical part.

"Before a vaccine was finally discovered by an American scientist, Jonas Salk, in 1955, more than 80 percent of polio patients received help from the foundation."

"Before a vaccine was finally discovered by an American scientist in 1955, more than 80 percent of polio patients received help from the foundation."

See also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parenthesis_%28rhetoric%29

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Jonas Salk is in apposition. Commas are correct here, preferred by me to the alternatives, dashes or parentheses.

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