3 Cases of Missing Parenthetical Punctuation

By Mark Nichol

In each of the following examples, a complementary comma that provides closure for a parenthetical phrase is missing. Discussion after each sentence explains the problem, and a revision demonstrates the solution.

1. A-list actors, including Scarlett Johansson, Idris Elba, and Bill Murray provide the voices for CGI characters.

If the sentence began with the actors’ names and was a simple statement of identification, only the commas after the first and second names would be required. But because the names, preceded by the organizational signal word including, are parenthetical to the main clause, “A-list actors provide the voices for CGI characters,” providing examples rather than constituting a comprehensive list, a comma must follow Bill Murray’s name to complement the comma after actors: “A-list actors, including Scarlett Johansson, Idris Elba, and Bill Murray, provide the voices for CGI characters.”

2. Despite Jones’s busy schedule, Smith said that he always found time for her.

Smith does not say something in spite of Jones’s busy schedule; “Smith said” is parenthetical to the main clause, “Despite Jones’s busy schedule, he always found time for her,” so it should be bracketed by two commas: “Despite Jones’s busy schedule, Smith said, he always found time for her.”

3. If he got lost, Jones was told a search party would not be sent to rescue him.

The sentence suggests, with an apparently tangled tense construction, that if “he” were to get lost, he would be informed that no search party would be sent to rescue him. But what is meant is that he was told that if he got lost, no rescue effort would ensue. “Jones was told” is parenthetical to the statement, just as “Smith said” is parenthetical in the previous example, so it must be set off from the main clause by commas before and after the phrase: “If he got lost, Jones was told, a search party would not be sent to rescue him.”

Recommended for you: « »



Leave a comment: