So, as a rule of thumb if you remove a word or clause which has been enclosed with bracketing commas then it shouldn't destroy the meaning of the sentence.

Does this idea/rule apply to all aspects of sentence construction and comma usage or other punctuation; the notion that any isolated information in a sentence must not leave anything ungrammatical should it be removed ? Any exceptions?


1 Answer 1


It's true that removing nonessential information, which exists between a pair of commas (as here), should have no significant impact on the sentence:

It's true that removing nonessential information should have no significant impact on the sentence.

However, it's not true that simply having two commas in a sentence means that the information between those commas is nonessential:

I like mangoes, cherries, and kumquats.

Here, although located between two commas, cherries is not nonessential information. You have to analyze the sentence and determine what functional role the commas play.

If something really is nonessential, then removing it shouldn't impact the surrounding text. If things are constructed in such a way that it would, then either it's not actually nonessential or the sentence has been poorly constructed.

This also applies to other punctuation marks, such as parentheses and em dashes. However, there may be some stylistic issues:

What I want to say, and I'm sure you'll agree—in principle—is that sentences should be formatted so that the removal of nonessential information doesn't harm anything.

The problem with this is that I have a single comma and two em dashes. Technically, I should insert a second comma after the second em dash:

What I want to say, and I'm sure you'll agree—in principle—, is that . . .

But although there are now appropriately nested pairs of punctuation marks, this particular use is too awkward.

One solution is to replace the em dashes with parentheses, thereby allowing a second comma without difficulty:

What I want to say, and I'm sure you'll agree (in principle), is that . . .

I might be proven wrong by comments or other answers, but I can't think of a situation where a sentence should be constructed in such a way that nonessential information (and its punctuation marks) couldn't be removed without doing harm to the remaining text.

  • An alcoholic, Reed's issues with drink were well publicised, from appearances on chat shows to a high-profile friendship with drinking partner, The Who drummer Keith Moon, with the two meeting while working on Tommy.
    – bluebell1
    Sep 17, 2018 at 22:26
  • with drinking partner/ with the two (This doesn't work when the non-essential information is taken out. Is there a mistake in this sentence ?
    – bluebell1
    Sep 17, 2018 at 22:27
  • @bluebell1 The sentence is still grammatical and meaningful without the presence of The Who drummer Keith Moon. It doesn't convey as much information (only that his drinking partner was somebody from Tommy), but it still functions as a sentence. It's like giving Keith Moon's age and phone number—that would be additionally interesting, but also not necessary. Sep 17, 2018 at 23:16

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