Punctuation Quiz #15: Parenthetical Words and Phrases

By Mark Nichol

In each of the following sentences, commas are missing or are misplaced, misrepresenting exactly which word or phrase is parenthetical to the sentence. Revise the sentences as necessary to clarify the parenthesis.

1. One of the team’s all-time greats, John Smith took over after Robert Jones was injured.

2. There were a bunch of policies, local ones mostly, that I found well intentioned but ineffective.

3. The dust covers allowed the grease to leak out, and worse, allowed dirt and water to get in.

4. He was extremely interested in the job when Thomas was hired, and by many accounts, was the second choice.

5. Older students model good behavior, and through continual peer mentoring, develop their teaching skills and solidify their own knowledge.

Answers and Explanations

1.
Original: One of the team’s all-time greats, John Smith took over after Robert Jones was injured.
Correct : One of the team’s all-time greats, John Smith, took over after Robert Jones was injured.

The original sentence is correct only if Smith was mentioned by name in a previous sentence, in which case only his last name would be used. Otherwise, bracket his name, used appositively in relation to the first clause, with a pair of commas.

2.
Original: There were a bunch of policies, local ones mostly, that I found well intentioned but ineffective.
Correct : There were a bunch of policies — local ones, mostly — that I found well intentioned but ineffective.
Alterna.: There were a bunch of policies — mostly local ones — that I found well intentioned but ineffective.

The tag mostly must be set off from the rest of the interjection by a comma (unless it precedes “local ones”). So that the parenthetical stands out more distinctly, it should be set off from the rest of the sentence by an em dash to distinguish the break in thought from the separation of the adverbial tag.

3.
Original: The dust covers allowed the grease to leak out, and worse, allowed dirt and water to get in.
Correct : The dust covers allowed the grease to leak out and, worse, allowed dirt and water to get in.

Worse is the parenthetical, so it alone should be set off by commas.

4.
Original: He was extremely interested in the job when Thomas was hired, and by many accounts, was the second choice.
Correct : He was extremely interested in the job when Thomas was hired and, by many accounts, was the second choice.

“By many accounts” is parenthetical and is the only element of the sentence to require internal punctuation.

5.
Original: Older students model good behavior, and through continual peer mentoring, develop their teaching skills and solidify their own knowledge.
Correct : Older students model good behavior and, through continual peer mentoring, develop their teaching skills and solidify their own knowledge.

As with the two previous examples, no comma is required before the and separating the two clauses. (A comma is necessary only if a noun or pronoun follows the conjunction; the comma then distinguishes one independent clause from another.)

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1 Response to “Punctuation Quiz #15: Parenthetical Words and Phrases”

  • David B.

    Since mispunctuation of parenthetical and appositive clauses is a particular pet peeve of mine, BRAVO!

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