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Chains, of volcanic islands called archipelagos, provide evidence that the hotspot stays in place as the tectonic plate passes over it.

A) NO CHANGE
B) Chains of volcanic islands, called archipelagos,
C) Chains of volcanic islands called archipelagos
D) Chains, of volcanic islands, called archipelagos

I incorrectly chose B thinking "called archipelagos" was a non-essential element. However, C is correct because "chains of volcanic islands called archipelagos" is a complex noun phrase.

So my questions are:

1) Is it true commas should never separate elements in a complex noun phrase?
2) Is there a good way to identify them?

Furthermore, would this be correct?

Chains of volcanic islands, also known as archipelagos, provide evidence that the hotspot stays in place as the tectonic plate passes over it.

Does adding "also known as" set it off as a non-essential element?

Thank you

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The question is flawed. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, an archipelago is "a group of small islands or an area of sea in which there are many small islands". Note the absence of the word "volcanic" from this definition. Stockholm is an archipelago, with some 30,000 islands, but its origins are post-glacial rebound, not volcanic activity.

Compound nouns only work if one part of the compound noun restricts another, for example "The type of dogs called terriers" is a compound noun, because "terriers" defines a subset of "dogs". "Chains of volcanic islands called archipelagos" cannot be a compound noun because the term archipelago refers to any group of islands, not just a volcanic one. It is a superset of "chains of volcanic islands".

"called archipelagoes" is non-restrictive, and therefore B is (insofar as any answer is correct) the correct answer, though it's a bit like saying "terriers, called dogs,...". The same applies to your alternative version "also known as.."

One way that you could make a logically correct sentence like this would be

Chains of volcanic islands, a kind of archipelago, provide evidence that the hotspot stays in place as the tectonic plate passes over it.

To answer your questions, it is true that you can't put commas in a compound noun. Compound nouns are easy to identify because one element of the compound noun restricts another, for example ""bus stop", "night light", "a tool for taking stones out of horses' hooves".

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