by Cherie Tucker
When you are writing and break into the stream of thought, you
need to use punctuation to advise your readers what you are doing.
Sometimes you are just giving them a little more information about
a name, so you use commas: Jim, my neighbor, will be here.
(You stop the sentence to tell who Jim is.) We do the same things
with dates and addresses: He was born on June 4, 1919, in
Pitcher, Oklahoma. (You tell which June 4 and which city named
Pitcher.) We’ve talked about these before.
Many writers do use the first comma in the above examples, but they
leave out the ending one, through no fault of their own. There was
a window during which people were taught to leave the final one out,
especially in dates and addresses, as it was deemed unnecessary.
However, just like final serial comma before the and (Tom,
Dick, and Harry), this ending comma is back to add clarity to your
writing and prevent misreading.
If you wrote Jim, my neighbor will be here, as in the
sentence above, and left out the second comma, you would be telling
someone named Jim that a person who is your neighbor will be here.
You are not telling someone who Jim is, so if that is your intent,
the second comma is instrumental in conveying your message.
That second-comma rule also applies to the interruptive Latin
abbreviations, etc., e.g., and i.e., but
apparently there are people who do not realize that and use no
commas at all. Each of these, or the English terms they stand for,
etc. et cetera and so forth (not
e.g. exempli gratia for example
i.e. id est that is
must be preceded and followed by commas when the sentence
Bring a sleeping bag, flashlight, etc., and we’ll meet
Bring the standard camping stuff, e.g., sleeping bag,
flashlight, warm socks.
Don’t forget the standard camping stuff, i.e.,
marshmallows, graham crackers, and Hershey bars.
If you were among those taught that there were too many
commas, you may add these necessary ones back into your repertoire
with impunity. Your teachers will understand, and so will your
Cherie Tucker, owner of GrammarWorks, has taught writing basics to
professionals since 1987, presenting at the PNWA conference.
She currently teaches Practical Grammar for Editors at the
University of Washington’s Editing Certification program and edits