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A Really Hot Guy Named Clark (And Restrictive Clauses)

A Really Hot Guy Named Clark (And Restrictive Clauses)

By Miss Marm

In terms of thrills and chills, restrictive commas are right up there with toe lint. To make this post more fun, let's pretend the Clark in question is 6'2", muscly, and brooding.

Josieiz writes:

I have a quick grammar question.
Which one is correct?

My brother Clark went to the store to buy some oranges.

Or...

My brother, Clark, went to the store to buy some oranges.

I am just not sure if you are suppose to separate "Clark" from the sentence by commas or if "brother" is just describing "Clark."
I suppose I am mostly confused because you can take "Clark" out and it still makes sense.
Thanks!

Here's the short answer: both sentences are grammatically correct.

But the meaning of the sentences is different. The first ("My brother Clark") implies that the speaker has more than one brother. The second ("My brother, Clark,") implies that the speaker has one brother.

If you're allergic to technical explanations of grammar, stop reading now.

Still here? OK, let's geek out!

Here are three key pieces of background information: 1) Commas, in some cases, surround stuff that can be safely omitted without gravely harming the meaning of a sentence. 2) Restrictive clauses provide essential information about the noun. They can't be omitted or the meaning of the noun will be lost. Therefore, you don't surround restrictive clauses with commas. 3) Nonrestrictive clauses provide inessential information about the noun. They can be omitted without causing bewilderment in the reader. Therefore, you surround nonrestrictive clauses with commas.

Let's go back to the Sparkler's sentences. Say they're written by two different girls: Sienna (who has six brothers), and Ophelia (who has one brother).

Sienna's sentence: My brother Clark went to the store to buy some oranges.

In Sienna's case, Clark is a one-word restrictive clause. Sienna has six brothers, and the word "Clark" provides essential information about which one of those six brothers went on an orange-buying mission. She can't use commas around the word "Clark," because if she removed it, we wouldn't know whether Amos, Biff, Clark, Dennis, Eamon, or Frank bought the oranges.

Ophelia's sentence: My brother, Clark, went to the store to buy some oranges.

For Ophelia, "Clark" is a one-word nonrestrictive clause. She has one brother and one brother only. Therefore, she could remove the word "Clark" from this sentence without causing terrible confusion. Because she's including a nonrestrictive clause—extra information that's not crucial to defining the noun "brother"—she needs commas.

If you followed all that, you deserve an Icee (mix the cherry and the Coke flavors for maximum delight).

If you have a grammar question, send it to missmarm@advice.com for possible publication on the blog.

Topics: grammar, the rules, commas, hot guys, restrictive clauses, nonrestrictive clauses
 

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