Restrictive Punctuation Exercise (417)

For each pair of sentences below, select the correctly punctuated sentence.

    1.
    The app is the brainchild of the company’s president, Roberta Roe.
    The app is the brainchild of the company’s president Roberta Roe.

    2.
    The company was launched in 2008 by founders, John Smith and Mary Jones, the product’s creators.
    The company was launched in 2008 by founders John Smith and Mary Jones, the product’s creators.

    3.
    She obtained the services of John Doe, attorney at law.
    She obtained the services of John Doe attorney at law.

    4.
    The book "Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone" was the first in the series.
    The book, "Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone," was the first in the series.

    5.
    New team owner Steve Ballmer gave Shelly Sterling the title, owner emeritus, and said she would have floor tickets for all games.
    New team owner Steve Ballmer gave Shelly Sterling the title owner emeritus and said she would have floor tickets for all games.

Answers and Explanations

1. The app is the brainchild of the company’s president, Roberta Roe.
"The company’s president" and "Roberta Roe" are appositives, words or phrases that represent the same thing, and must therefore be set off by punctuation. (The sentence implies that the company has already been mentioned.) The form in "The app is the brainchild of company president Roberta Roe" is an exception: "Company president" alone, without the article "the" and the possessive "s," doesn’t equal "Roberta Roe"; it is an epithet, or description.

2. The company was launched in 2008 by founders John Smith and Mary Jones, the product’s creators.
"Founders" is an epithet describing the role of the people named; if the sentence were revised so that "the founders" or "its founders" precedes or follows the names, that phrase would serve as an appositive (a substitution for the names), and commas would be required to set the names off.

3. She obtained the services of John Doe, attorney at law.
When a job title or other descriptive word or phrase follows a name, it serves an appositive function, rather than functioning as an epithet, and is set off by a comma.

4. The book "Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone" was the first in the series.
Here, "the book" is an epithet describing what kind of thing the title refers to. If the book title were set off with commas, it would serve as an appositive to "the book," erroneously implying that only one book is in existence, and that is its title. (Exception: If a reference to the book, without the title, has previously been made, then option b is correct—the title is being interjected into the main clause "The book was the first in the series" as an appositive to provide additional infor

5. New team owner Steve Ballmer gave Shelly Sterling the title owner emeritus and said she would have floor tickets for all games.
The same grammatical rules apply for this sentence as for the previous one. "The title" describes what "owner emeritus" is; setting "owner emeritus" off in commas implies that it is the only possible title. (Exception: If a previous sentence had stated something like "The man who bought the Clippers has awarded the wife of Donald Sterling an honorary title," then "the title" would allude to a previous reference, and "owner emeritus" would be set off by commas as an appositive to "the title.")

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