English Grammar

Explanatory comma characteristics and examples

Explanatory comma

The explanatory comma is one that is used to enclose the explanatory paragraphs of a sentence. A subsection can be a word, phrase or sentence whose function is to explain a noun. These cut the logical sequence of the text. At a syntactic level, these explanatory commas are equivalent to parentheses and hyphens or dashes.

In general, the comma is a punctuation mark that indicates a brief pause in speech. In the same way, it is used to indicate a separation of the phrases or shorter members of a sentence or clause.

In particular, the explanatory comma separates words or short phrases that are not essential, but that help a better understanding of the text.

Now, they are called explanatory because what they contain offers an explanation or clarification. This explanatory extension is an additional dispensable complement within the discourse.

Thus, the sentence None of the teachers, who were on strike, signed can do without the subsection without changing the meaning: None of the teachers signed .

The explanatory character of these commas can be observed by removing them: None of the teachers who were on strike signed . Note that the meaning of the sentence changes.

In the original example, all the teachers were on strike and they all signed. The second version, on the other hand, implies that only those who were on strike stopped signing.

Characteristics of explanatory commas

One of the main characteristics of the explanatory comma is that it is only used in the case of explanatory paragraphs, and not in the specifics. These are recognized because their omission does not significantly affect the meaning of the sentence.

On the contrary, the specifics do have weight in the meaning. Thus, the meaning of the sentences: The city that I knew was not as you describe it and The city was not as you describe it is different. Note that the explanatory comma is not used in these cases.

Regarding the explanatory paragraphs, one of the most frequent cases are the explanatory appositions. These consist of nouns or noun phrases that complement or modify another noun without there being a link: Madrid, capital of Spain, is beautiful .

Likewise, explanatory adjectival subordinate clauses are common. These fulfill the function of adjective and are introduced by the relative pronoun que. An example of this type of proposition is: Madrid, which I visit every summer, is beautiful .

Another distinctive feature of elliptical commas is that they briefly interrupt a story. This interruption serves to clarify, specify or expand on something that has been discussed.

On the other hand, another peculiarity of this comma is that it is equivalent to parentheses and major dashes or dashes. In this way, it is also valid to say Madrid (which I visit every summer) is beautiful or Madrid – which I visit every summer – is beautiful .


The explanatory comma is used to separate incidental or clarifying elements. These elements interrupt the main sequence by adding important information, but not necessary to understand the text. In fact, this information can be omitted without significantly affecting the meaning of the sentence.

If this subsection is at the end of the sentence, only an explanatory comma is placed. Meanwhile, if it is in another position, then two are used: one at the beginning of the explanatory phrase and another at the end. The following sentences account for this usage:

  • He began his conference by thanking the support of Luis Salazar, organizer of the event.
  • The lecturer began by thanking Luis Salazar, organizer of the event, for the support provided.

In both cases, the explanatory paragraph is the event organizer apposition, which serves to clarify who Luis Salazar is. This subsection can be omitted without affecting the meaning of the text. In this case, the sentences would be:

  • He began his conference by thanking Luis Salazar for his support.
  • The lecturer began by thanking Luis Salazar for the support he provided.

In addition, as can be seen in both examples, the explanatory comma – with its corresponding subsection – must be placed immediately after the noun that is being modified.

Doing it in another way can affect the understanding of the text. Note this case in the following sentences:

  • * The lecturer began by thanking Luis Salazar for the support provided, organizer of the event.
  • * The successes of her sister made her a complex, who was not older than her.


The following extract shows the use of an apposition and an adjective subordinate proposition, both explanatory.

These are found in a row and, at first glance, the sentence may seem ambiguous: “Terry, Irene’s brother, who was already 73 years old, had come to visit her as a surprise.” (Robert Morris The God I Never Knew , 2015).

First, the explanatory apposition Irene’s brother is complementing Terry . For its part, the subordinate adjectival proposition who was already 73 years old could be a factor of ambiguity if the sentence is not well analyzed.

So who was 73, Terry or Irene? Precisely, the explanatory comma and its closeness to the modified noun indicates that the subsection is modifying Irene and not Terry. Otherwise, the author could use another structure such as: Terry, Irene’s brother and who was already 73 years old, had come… ”.

In the following excerpt, from the same work, the main sentence is: Back in 1932, a young English couple unhitched their motor home on the side of the road and drove off. Note the use of the comma to add explanatory paragraphs:

“Back in 1932, in the depths of the Great Depression, a desperate and confused young English couple unhooked their rather rickety motor home to the side of the road and drove off.”

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Back to top button