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Nit picky comma question

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by IllMil, Oct 8, 2008.

  1. IllMil

    IllMil Active Member

    Sorry if this is not the right area, but this is a question that I always struggle with.

    In the following sentence, for example:

    The painting shows Lincoln and his wife, Mary, sitting at Ford's Theatre.

    Do you need commas to set off Mary? Seeing how he only has one wife, I want to take the commas out, but I've seen this written both way so many times, I really don't know. Any help is appreciated.
  2. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    If there is only one you need the commas.

    For example: John and his brother Bill walked to school.

    John and Bill are the subjects of the sentence and his brother modifies Bill

    Or: John and his brother, Bill, walked to school.

    John and his brother are the subjects and the commas tell you that John has more than one brother. Here Bill is describing the brother.

    On "wife" you would need the commas, though I could take it or leave it since it's understood you generally have one spouse at a time.
  3. Steak Snabler

    Steak Snabler Well-Known Member

    No, you need the commas precisely because he has only one wife. "Mary" is essentially an independent clause; you can take Mary and the two commas out with having to clarify which wife you're talking about.

    If he had more than one, you wouldn't need commas.


    "George W. Bush's brother Jeb is governor of Florida; his brother Neil is co-chairman of Crest Investment."

    I think I'm right anyway ...
  4. ScribePharisee

    ScribePharisee New Member

    Applying this to another issue:

    We typically say
    Joe Franks of Lexington, Ky., won the contest.

    Joe Franks, 21, of Lexington, Ky., won the contest.

    Most avoid saying Joe Franks, of Lexington, Ky., but the argument for using commas is that there "may" be more than one Joe Franks. True. But why don't you see the use of commas in the first example I citeD?
  5. zebracoy

    zebracoy Guest

    From the AP Stylebook (Which may now be wrong, because this is the 2004 edition):

    From the essential phrases, nonessential phrases entry:

    From the commas entry:

  6. mustangj17

    mustangj17 Active Member

    See Ace, you are good enough to work at the Plain Dealer.
  7. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    And a fat lot of good that does me.
  8. ScribePharisee

    ScribePharisee New Member

    Yeah, but it's not always known if there's more than one daughter.
  9. Drip

    Drip Active Member

    Whatever happened to when it doubt, leave it out?
  10. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    That may be a smart rule of thumb for one-night stands, perhaps, but not copy editing.
  11. Drip

    Drip Active Member

  12. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    Think about it.
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