This point came up in an email conversation today with a friend and I would like to thank him for the inspiration for today’s blog. I had previously told him that you shouldn’t put commas either side of bracketing commas (for more on this, see Note 3: The use of brackets and bracketing commas), or should you?
When I thought about this a bit more, I realised that there could be some situations where a comma would naturally go after the bracketing commas. I just did at the end of the last paragraph and I think it works perfectly well there. The reason I thought this is because without the bit in bracketing commas, the comma before the ‘or do you?’ would naturally have been there anyway.
Finding evidence of this
I’m hoping that today’s blog sparks off a bit of a discussion as I haven’t found many people writing about this issue. In the sentence below, I believe that you do need a comma. Is this just because it explains the abbreviation, or is there another reason?
How many years did he work for the NHS (National Health Service), before he left to go and work for the trains?
It felt right to put a comma after the brackets, but I decided that I needed to find some evidence that suggests that it is okay to do this, so I researched some more.
Moira Allen’s article about ‘Avoiding Comma Confusion’ writing-world.com, is the only article I have found that writes about putting a comma after a clause/phrase in bracketing commas (in parentheses) and it is to do with dependent clauses. The explanation actually proves my point in the above two examples.
The article is quite long, but the explanation relevant to today’s blog can be found in the section of her article headed up ‘dependent clauses’ (about a third of the way through). She explains that the comma can be used to set off the part of the sentence that is not dependent on the rest – even if it does follow ‘bracketing commas’. The sentence she uses is:
“It generally does not have its own subject (or quite often even its own verb), like the clause I just inserted”.
There are three clauses in the above sentence but only the last two are dependent clauses (clauses that cannot stand on their own as sentences). To explain the comma in the above, it sets off a dependent clause i.e. like the clause I just inserted. She concludes (and I agree) that it is correct to put a comma before the second dependent clause even though it’s after the bracketing commas.
My thoughts: It took me a while to get my head around this one, but Moira Allen’s article has really helped to make this point clear – thank you! From now on I will look at my sentences and decide if each phrase/clause can stand alone or not. If it cannot, I will feel more confident about setting it off with a comma, even if it does follow bracketing commas.
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- Hello, Comma (magnificentnose.com)