One thing that seems to trip people up with commas is how to use them with names.

For example, which of these is correct:

  • My daughter Jane just bought an island.
  • My daughter, Jane, just bought an island.

Well, actually, both could be correct. It depends on the situation.

The first example would be correct if the speaker has more than one daughter. The second example would be correct if the speaker has only one daughter.

In the second example, we use the commas to set off Jane as, effectively, a nonrestrictive clause. Because the speaker has only one daughter, including the name provides no additional information on who they are speaking about.

Here are some more examples, a bit more obvious, I hope:

  • My boss, Jennifer Smith, just gave me a bonus.
  • I visited my hometown, Regina, this weekend.
  • I married my spouse, Peter, two summers ago.

So, basically, use commas if the name is for something or someone who is unique and omit them if they’re not unique.

About Kim Siever

I am a copywriter and copyeditor. I blog on writing tips mostly, but I sometimes throw in my thoughts about running a small business. Follow me on Twitter at @hotpepper.

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