In the following sentence how many persons are mentioned, 3 or 4?

The Sentence is:

"They invited me to dinner, and when I arrived at their house, there stood my girlfriend's father, and her mother, Katherine the school principal, and Tommy."

First interpretation (4 persons):

The two and makes that this sentence talks about 2 pairs of persons (4 persons in total).

1- my girlfriend's father


2- her mother

3- Katherine the school principal


4- Tommy

This is, separating first couple in father and mother and the other couple Katherine and Tommy.

Second interpretation (3 persons):

If I follow the rules of how/when to use commas, I find 3 persons here.

1- my girlfriend's father


2- her mother, Katherine the school principal


3- Tommy

In this case Katherine the school principal that appears after the comma is an additional information about the second person that is her mother


The main rules of commas used in this sentence suggests to be these 3 persons.

  1. Use a comma before any coordinating conjunction (and, but, for, or, nor, so, yet) that links two independent clauses

  2. Use a comma after a dependent clause that starts a sentence

  3. Use commas to offset appositives from the rest of the sentence

Appositives act as synonyms for a juxtaposed word or phrase. For example, "While running, I saw a mallard, a kind of duck." "A kind of duck" is the appositive, which gives more information about "a mallard."

If the appositive occurs in the middle of the sentence, both sides of the phrase need a comma, as in:

A mallard, a kind of duck, attacked me.


  1. A guide to proper comma use.

  2. Ten uses of comma.

  • 1
    First present us with a properly constructed sentence. Then provide us with a reasonable amount of context, including a clue as to who "they" is. – Hot Licks Sep 14 '18 at 2:25
  • Whether it's three or four is uncertain. If "father, were followed by an appositive, let's say the name "Albert," then I would say three, so that "Katherine the school principal" is simply further defining "mother." But as the sentence is constructed, "Katherine the school principal," could be either a fourth person or an appositive. – Zan700 Sep 14 '18 at 2:47
  • The sentence, as written, is ungrammatical. – Jim Sep 14 '18 at 4:05
  • @HotLicks They are the parents of the girlfriend. – Ger Cas Sep 14 '18 at 4:06
  • @Zan700 May you see the update in my question. I put the rules of how to use commas. If I apply those 3 rules I get 3 persons in the sentence because for my understanding after "his mother" follows only additional information about the mother. Am I wrong? – Ger Cas Sep 14 '18 at 4:15

Either three or four is possible in this sentence. The sentence is ambiguous in this respect, at least when read out of context. However, it may be clear to the reader by that point whether the mother is the principal or not, in which case the ambiguity would not matter.

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  • Would help some to decide if there are 3 or 4 using the rules of use of commas that I show as reference? – Ger Cas Sep 14 '18 at 12:45
  • You can always avoid confusion by using semicolons in place of the listing comma. For example: “my father; my mother, the principal, and Tommy.” This makes it clear that mother and principal is the same. If you do not do this, then it is not clear. If the principal is a different person, then the only way to make it unambiguous is to put the principal at the end: “my father, my mother, Tommy, and the principal.” If the reader already knows that the mother is not the principal, ordering doesn’t matter. Here is a good resource on commas. – MotherBrain Sep 15 '18 at 0:41
  • Also the first ‘and’ is confusing and not necessary. I would remove it. – MotherBrain Sep 15 '18 at 0:43

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