1

Let's compare four examples

1. His sister Amy (comma dropped) vs 2. His sister, Amy (comma added)

1.I respected and admired his sister Amy.

2.I respected and admired his sister, Amy.

I think 1 is grammatically correct if there are at least two sisters in his house, but also 2 is grammatically correct if there is only one sister in his house.

3. My dog Spot (comma dropped) vs 4. My dog, Spot (comma added)

3.My dog Spot passed away three years ago.

4.My dog, Spot, passed away three years ago.

Like I just said above, I think 3 is grammatically correct if there are at least two dogs in my house, but also 4 is grammatically correct if there is only one dog in my house.

So, what I want to know are ...

Q1) Do I correctly understand the function of the comma?

Q2) Are the comma-dropped versions, "His sister Amy" and "My dog Spot" all grammatically correct?

1

Are the comma-dropped versions, "His sister Amy" and "My dog Spot" all grammatically correct?

"First, let me say that, while punctuation and grammar are related, details like commas don't generally make something ungrammatical." - JavaLatte

Also check out the answers in "Is the extra comma grammatical?"

All versions are grammatical (the commas may very well change what the sentences mean, but they do not affect the grammaticality of your sentences).

  1. I respected and admired his sister Amy. {no comma - "Amy" is restrictive information}

This says you only respect the sister named Amy. You are right, this implies there is more than one sister.

  1. I respected and admired his sister, Amy. {comma - "Amy" is additional or nonrestrictive information}

As you said, this implies he has one sister, and her name is Amy. "Amy" here is an a appositive.

Commas and Appositives

"Appositive nouns and noun phrases are often nonrestrictive; that is, they can be omitted from a sentence without obscuring the identity of the nouns they describe. Another word for nonrestrictive is nonessential. Always bookend a nonrestrictive, appositive noun or phrase with commas in the middle of a sentence. If the noun or phrase is placed at the end of a sentence, it should be preceded by a comma."

Here is a treat from a more authoritative source.

The Chicago Manual of Style (17th Ed) - 6.28: Commas with appositives

"A word, abbreviation, phrase, or clause that is placed in apposition to a noun (i.e., providing an explanatory equivalent) is normally set off by commas if it is nonrestrictive—that is, if it can be omitted without obscuring the identity of the noun to which it refers."

  • Ursula’s husband, Jan, is also a writer. (Ursula has only one husband.)
  • Ursula’s son, Clifford, had been a student of Norman Maclean’s. (Ursula has only one son.)

"If, however, the word or phrase is restrictive—that is, it provides (or may provide) essential information about the noun (or nouns) to which it refers—no commas should appear."

  • Caligula’s sister Drusilla has been the subject of much speculation. (Caligula had three sisters.)

The proper nouns (i.e., Amy and Spot) in the sentences without the commas (1 and 3) are restrictive information. If you omit the names, the meaning of the sentences will change.

If you had more than one dog three years ago, then you have to identify which dog it is that passed away - you do that by renaming your dog. If you had three dogs at that time, you say

  1. My dog Spot passed away three years ago. Bubble and Duck are healthy and happy!

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