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acAdvanced Composition 
To Comma or Not Comma, That is the Question!
 April 11, 2002


Sometimes, a comma is essential. Sometimes, you should leave it (or them) out! Tonight, we'll practice using commas with nonessential elements (the comma is required by the grammar) and with essential elements (the comma should not be used).

Is that an Essential Comma? (or maybe not?)

Consider the following two sentences:

The movie that I want to see with my brother is at the Hollywood Theatre. 
The movie, which is perhaps the best example of film noir in existence, is at the Hollywood Theatre.

The phrase "that I want to see with my brother" is essential, as it is not just any movie, but only the one my brother and I want to see.

In the second case, "which is perhaps the best example of film noir in existence" is nonessential information referring to the noun, "movie."

Now, consider these two sentences:

Pearson ALC students who find a class too difficult should see a teacher to change their schedules. 
Pearson ALC students, who are among the nicest people in the whole world, come from many countries.

The phrase "who find a class too difficult" is essential as the sentence refers to a small group of students and not to everyone.

In the second sentence, the phrase "who are among the nicest people in the whole world" is nonessential (although it is a nice thing to say!) to the meaning of the sentence.

Tonight's Writing Assignment

Recommend a book, movie, television show, or restaurant. Be sure to give good, concrete details and examples. Write a clear topic sentence and concluding sentence. And, of course, use two sentences with essential elements and two with nonessential elements to show you have understood tonight's lesson. For example: "A person who loves to eat spicy food will love my favourite Thai restaurant." and "The restaurant, which is often full of happy people, is located near 27th and Main."

Teacher Writing Sample on this topic.

Please also visit your Advanced Composition Class Page where you can access current and past lessons.

More Lessons (index of past lesson worksheets)