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 pronounced ik-cetra)
e.g. exempli gratia for example
i.e. id est that is
must be preceded and followed by commas when the sentence continues.
Bring a sleeping bag, flashlight, etc., and we’ll meet you there.
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 readers.
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 as well. GrammarWorks@msn.com