Understanding Interrupters

Here’s a sentence from a literary newsletter article about environmentalist Rachel Carson. Can you figure out what’s wrong with it?

Though too poor to have indoor plumbing, her mother subscribed to the children’s magazine, St. Nicholas, whose mission included the “protection of the oppressed, whether human or dumb creatures.”  INCORRECT

The problem is the comma after “children’s magazine.” That comma doesn’t belong there. Here’s the sentence again, with the correction:

Though too poor to have indoor plumbing, her mother subscribed to the children’s magazine St. Nicholas, whose mission included the “protection of the oppressed, whether human or dumb creatures.” CORRECT

Technically we’re talking about “interrupters” – words that cause a sentence to stop and then start again. Countless teachers (including me) have wrung their hands trying to explain to students how to do these commas correctly. Conventional rules and explanations usually complicate things and just confuse students more.

Luckily there’s a simple way to punctuate an interrupter correctly: Just read the sentence aloud, listen for a voice drop, and insert commas.

When you try that with today’s sentence, you’ll notice that your voice doesn’t change when you read “the children’s magazine St. Nicholas.” So – no comma!

Your voice will change, however, when you start reading “whose mission included…” Aha! Comma needed.

Here’s the sentence again, correctly punctuated. PLEASE read it aloud. You’ll hear your voice change. Automatically. In the right place.

Though too poor to have indoor plumbing, her mother subscribed to the children’s magazine St. Nicholas, whose mission included the “protection of the oppressed, whether human or dumb creatures.” CORRECT

To learn more, click here and read about Comma Rule 3. You can also watch a short video about Comma Rule 3 by clicking here.

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