I've been getting conflicting information on this problem. If I write:

"My brother Sam loves to eat cake." OR

"My brother, Sam, loves to eat cake."

OR to be REALLY clear "One of my brothers, Sam, loves to eat cake."

Do I leave out the comma around his name in the first one to indicate that I have other brothers other than Sam? If so, I don't understand this because he is my ONLY brother that is "Sam" whether or not I have other brothers, and why should me having other brothers be of interest to anyone anyway?

Does the second one indicate he is my only brother by being written with the commas?

Or should I just use the last one, which would sound odd if I was writing this to someone who is aware of Sam and that I have other brothers already.

  • Welcome to EL&U. You know how many brothers you have, but your readers (most of them, anyway) do not. If you write my brother Sam, they will assume that you have other brothers besides Sam, and if you write my brother, Sam, they will assume that you have one brother whose name is Sam, simply because that is the way appositives are presented in written English. No one is going to throw you in jail over punctuating however you please, but your communication will be less effective when you deviate from conventions your audience follows.
    – choster
    Nov 16 '18 at 21:31
  • You have to take context into consideration too. Just because you use a comma doesn't mean anything specific about your brothers. My brother, Sam, loves to eat cake. You might think that means you only have one brother. But it could be followed up by My other brother, George, hates cake. Your use of commas is perfectly fine—and, in context, means nothing at all about the number of brothers you have. Similarly, although prescriptive grammarians might object to neglecting commas, leaving them out doesn't necessarily mean you have more than one brother. This particular subject is debatable. Nov 16 '18 at 21:39
  • (You would not normally say my other brother George, without commas, unless you actually had two brothers who were both named George. So even though you have at least two brothers, a comma normally would be used in this construction.) Nov 16 '18 at 21:44

In your second example, putting 'Sam' between commas makes it an appositive. An appositive is an extra descriptor which is used to give more information about the noun next to it, but doesn't add anything to the sentence. In fact, you can remove the appositive without affecting the meaning of the sentence. So your second example has the same meaning as "My brother loves to eat cake.", while also indicating that your brother's name is Sam. To me this implies that in your current situation there is only one person whom you would refer to as your brother. Maybe you have multiple brothers, but only one is at the party with the cake.

In your first example, 'My brother' is being used like an adjective to describe Sam. This sentence does not imply anything about whether you have other brothers. It could be used if your brother and friend, both named Sam, were eating the cake, and you wanted to express which Sam loved it. Or it could be used to indicate that the Sam you are talking about is your brother.

In the last example, you again use 'Sam' as an appositive, so the sentence is equivalent to "One of my brothers loves to eat cake", while at the same time specifying which one. This sentence does imply that you have other brothers.

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