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"I believe in no God, no invisible man in the sky. But there is something more powerful than each of us, a combination of our efforts, a Great Chain of industry that unites us." - Andrew Ryan

What are the rules that permit the use of commas after the words "God", "us" and "efforts"?

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These are all examples of non-restrictive appositive noun phrases, which require the use of commas.

Non-restrictive appositive noun phrases add additional information to further describe/quantify/specify/develop the preceding noun phrase. They are however, non-restrictive (rather than essential or restrictive) because they can be removed without significant change in meaning to the overall sentence. Removing them may lessen the detail or reduce the propositional impact, but the meaning is still clear.

I believe in no God, no invisible man in the sky [2]. But there is something more powerful than each of us, a combination of our efforts [3], a Great Chain of industry that unites us[4]

In the first sentence [2] can be removed. In the second sentence [4] can be removed. In the second sentence, however, it is more difficult to remove [3] without [4], as [4] seems to work in close logical apposition to efforts.

  • I would disagree that both [3] and [4] are nonessential; removing them also removes the clarification of what the "something" is in the main clause. – geekahedron May 17 at 13:24
  • Hello, matt. There is the option of using more heavy-duty separators – the dash and the ellipsis. – Edwin Ashworth May 17 at 16:54
  • @geekahedron You are confusing the different senses of the word nonessential. Here, it doesn't mean not essential to understanding but not essential to the independence of the clause. – Jason Bassford May 18 at 19:37
  • I'm not sure that I am. "An essential appositive phrase provides information that is necessary for identifying the noun or pronoun that precedes it … In contrast, a nonessential appositive phrase provides additional information about a noun or pronoun in a sentence whose meaning is already clear" (K12 Reader). Without at least one of the two appositive phrases in the second sentence, the meaning of "something" is not clearly identified. – geekahedron May 18 at 19:43
  • @geekahedron 'something' is 'identified' by the defining (n.b.) reduced relative clause - 'more powerful than us'. – mattxxx4 May 25 at 7:23

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