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Test your comma skills with non-essential parenthetical elements

Comma skills quiz

Quizzes are a great way to learn. The best part is discovering what you know and what you don’t know. Plus, in this case, you’re testing your comma skills, which are super important for any writer.

And with an informal quiz like this one, there’s no performance pressure—you’re not in school, people—so you can relax and take your time. You can even look something up if you want to.

This quiz is all about commas used with “non-essential parenthetical elements.”

That’s a mouthful, isn’t it?

A non-essential parenthetical element is, first of all, not critically important to the main idea of the sentence. It’s non-essential. Plus, it’s something extra, like an afterthought or explanation, something you’d whisper to your readers so they understand better. Something you’d put in parentheses. Now, some parenthetical elements are essential, but that’s for another blog post.

All non-essential parenthetical elements, whether they’re single words, phrases, or clauses, are wrapped in a pair of commas. But that’s only when they’re plopped in the middle of a sentence, and they separate a subject and its verb.

On the other hand, if they begin or end a sentence, a comma is placed before or them.

Remember, any sentence composed of one independent clause contains a main point or idea.

You can add all sorts of descriptive words, phrases, and clauses—modifiers—but you’d still have the same core sentence. Here’s an example.

The dog ran.

This is the core sentence. It’s an independent clause, which contains a subject and a verb.

The dog ran down the road.

The prepositional phrase “down the road” adds additional, important meaning. If it’s not important, it needs to be rephrased.

The dog, excited to see her owner, ran down the road.

The phrase “excited to see her owner” adds meaning that’s not critical in the particular context.

The dog, who was excited to see her owner, ran down the road.

This is similar to the previous sentence, but instead of a phrase, a clause has been added (the words “who was” give the phrase a subject and a verb, which make it a clause.) But it’s still non-essential information because there’s no need to differentiate this dog from any other.

You get the picture, right? “The dog ran” is the main idea. Where she ran (“down the road”) is important in this case. But why she ran down the road is extra information. It’s like a “by the way” sort of thing.

It’s sort of like this: The dog (who, by the way, was excited to see her owner—aw, isn’t that sweet) ran down the road.

There’s no need to use parentheses, though, because you can just wrap up the phrase “excited to see her owner” in commas.

You can add non-essential information in many different ways.

The dog, excited to see her owner, ran down the road.
Excited to see her owner, the dog ran down the road.
Excited, the dog ran down the road to see her owner.
The dog ran down the road, excited to see her owner.
The dog, who was excited to see her owner, ran down the road.

And of course, you can remove or add words and phrases to alter meaning or offer other types of information.

The dog ran down the road, excited.
Wagging her tail joyously, the dog ran down the road.
The dog ran down the road, ears flattened.
Ears pinned back, the dog ran down the road.
The dog, ears flattened in rage, ran down the road to defend her owner.
The dog, growling viciously, ran down the road and leaped at the thief’s neck.

Important: When you remove the extra information, the sentence should still make sense and contain a subject and a verb working together.

All of these sentence parts and the way they’re positioned have fancy names, but for now it’s just important to recognize non-essential parenthetical words, phrases, and clauses.

Ready to test your comma skills? For each item, choose the sentence with the correctly placed comma(s). Good luck, and share with friends!

Click Here to Take the Quiz!

PS If you recognize any of the song titles or lyrics in the quiz items, leave a comment! Girls just wanna have fun, ya know? 🙂 And of course leave a comment if you have questions or whatever!

5 comments… add one
  • Good test 18/20 Now the songs
    Eurythmics
    Old sixties song & thankfully can’t remember who sang it
    I’m guessing fiddler on the roof. Oh if I were a rich man, but not with all those daughters
    No idea
    The doors
    Weather Girls
    REM
    Get by with a little help from my friends-Joe Cocker (is he dead?)
    Frankie (where is he now)
    Talking Heads is the version I know
    ACDC And it’s a long way to the top if you want a chiko roll. (sorry Aussie stuff)
    Don’t know
    Don’t know eeek! and it was going so well. (You know I’m only doing this to put off my rewrite, which is not 12 pages behind schedule)
    But I know 20 Dixie Chicks. I love the Dixie Chicks. That concert in Shepherds Bush when she opened her mouth to dis the President has to be the greatest Foot in Mouth faux pas ever committed. She was just sixteen… bow in the hair.
    Now stop bothering me. I’ve got work to do.
    PS
    18 out of 20 Good, good enough, bad, must do better. Koala stamp maybe. Kangaroo is better and I’ve never had a platypus. That was for the kids sitting up front with their hands so high you can’t see the blackboard.
    Bye
    Roo recently posted…The Hapless Writer-Life is like a marathonMy Profile

    Reply
    • Not bad! Lots of scores so far show one or two wrong, at least. A couple are a little tricky. Good job on the songs. No clue what Frankie is up to, but the Beatles version of “a little help from my friends” was what I had in mind. Some of them are pretty obscure unless you’re a fan 🙂

      You may now return to your regular programming!

      Reply
  • The dog “who”?

    Reply
    • Yes. Either “who” or “that” is acceptable when referring to a sentient being. (I assume you’re thinking of “that” instead of “who.”) In this case, gender has been established (she) as well as a human companion for whom the dog clearly has affection; therefore, “who” is even more appropriate.

      Does that answer your question?

      Reply
  • Enjoyed the way you present the information. You make it easy to learn. I have been writing for a number of years but I am certainly not an editor. I took the quiz and scored a ninety, which surprised me. Sentence structure is not one of my strengths.

    Hzal

    Reply

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