Identifying a Name—Commas or No Commas?
Why are the commas surrounding the name Danny?
Because he is my youngest son (not just any son), and his name is Danny. The words youngest and son in this sentence identify Danny and only Danny—that’s why commas are necessary.
What about this sentence:
I am reading the book “Tangerine” with my oldest son, Joey.
No commas for “Tangerine,” because it is not the only book in the world, comma before Joey, because he is the only oldest son in this instance, and no comma after Joey only, because his name ends the sentence.
The lesson here: Only use commas when the name identified is totally unique, and nothing else can fit the bill.
I can’t wait to watch my favorite TV show, “Modern Family.”
(I have only one favorite show, and it is “Modern Family.”)
I watched the TV show “Modern Family” last night.
(There are many TV shows, one of which is “Modern Family.”)
To check your work, ask yourself if the identifier makes sense in the sentence on its own. If it does, then the name is nonessential, and you need the comma(s). If it does not make sense solo, then the name is essential, and you do not need the comma(s). Nonessential means the sentence can do without what sits inside the commas, and essential means the wording is necessary for the meaning of the sentence to be clear.
I can’t wait to watch my favorite TV show
, “Modern Family.”
(The sentence makes sense with the identifiers only, so commas are necessary. The name of the TV show is nonessential to the meaning of the sentence.)
I watched the TV show
“Modern Family” last night.
(The sentence does not make sense with the identifiers only, because the reader does not learn which TV show was watched. In this case, commas are not necessary. The name of the TV show is essential to the meaning of the sentence.)
How about an exception (but just one for now):
When the words a, an, some, or a number precede the identifier, use commas.
A local farmer, Mr. Brown, shared vegetables with his neighbors.
(It’s possible there are many local farmers. Still, commas are used because of the word a.)
Feel free to throw questions my way via Ask Me.