1. My sister Hannah is ten years old.

  2. My sister, Hannah is ten years old.

  3. My sister, Hannah, is ten years old.

As far as I know, only the third example is correct because my sister(Hannah) is one and only being so you don't need to restrict it as "My wife, Lucy, is a beautiful woman" goes.

This is true even if there are many sisters besides Hannah.

And it is different from "My friend Jeff is a good guy" because I have many friends besides Jeff.

Am I right about this?

  • 1
    The difference is that in 1. "Hannah" is an integrated (restrictive) appositive - the absence of commas is the giveaway. We understand that of your sisters (you may have more than one) it is only "Hanna" who is ten years old. In your third example, "Hannah" is a supplementary (non-restrictive) appositive. This time, the presence of commas is the giveaway. Here, we understand that (probably) you have only one sister and she is ten years old. Your example 2. with only one comma is ambiguous and best avoided. – BillJ Aug 12 '16 at 13:25
  • In your other example "My wife Lucy", "Lucy" is integrated but not restrictive so you don't actually need the commas. There is no entailment that you have more than one wife; the integrated construction simply provides a succinct way of saying that the person concerned is my wife and is named "Lucy". – BillJ Aug 12 '16 at 13:29

Both #1 and #3 are correct, but they mean different things. #2 is (mostly) incorrect because the comma isn't really working the way you want it to.

#1 means that your sister who is named Hannah is ten years old. You might have other sisters, but sister Hannah is ten. However, this doesn't make it wrong if you have no other sisters, because you still have a sister Hannah.

#3 means that your sister (who happens to be called Hannah) is ten years old. This implies that you only have one sister, or at least only one whom we're talking about at the moment.

#2 doesn't really work for either of these cases because the single comma breaks up the sentence differently. The only way #3 could be correct is if you're addressing someone as "My sister" and stating "Hannah is ten years old. (If that's unclear, think of it as being like, "Dear Sir, Hannah is ten years old.")

| improve this answer | |
  • Thank you! I agree. I think comma usage is pretty difficult for non-native speakers, but, thanks to you, this is clear now. – Luxembourg Aug 12 '16 at 13:06

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.