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Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Dozen Uses for Commas, Part 6

Wow, we're halfway through our comma series. We've talked about using commas with conjunctions, serial commas, using commas after introductory elements (and when NOT to use a comma) and setting off nonessential items. (Whew, say that three times fast!)

Today we're going to look at which essential items should NOT be set off by commas.

First, a quick review:

Popcorn, one of my favorite foods, is a great snack.

The italicized portion of sentence does not change the meaning of the sentence and could be omitted, making it a nonessential item.

On the other hand, phrases that start with "that" are essential to the meaning and cannot be set off with commas:

The popcorn that I make is a great snack.

Omitting "that I make" from the sentence changes its meaning and therefore this phrase is essential to the sentence.

An important note here: "that" is often itself an overused word. In cases where the "that" is not explicitly stated, the rule still applies:

The popcorn I make is a great snack.

The popcorn in the kitchen is a great snack.