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Stop! Grammar time!

Oof. “Best known as the drummer and lyricist of the Canadian rock trio, Rush, [Neil] Peart was also a successful man of letters, a novelist, an autobiographer, and an essayist,” writes Bradley J. Birzer.

The great Benjamin Dreyer calls the comma following trio the “only” comma – used to “set off nouns that are, indeed, the only of of their kind in the vicinity.”

To illustrate, let’s say that I have three children: a daughter named Beulah and two sons, Beauregard and Bubba.

My daughter, Beulah, is a Mensa scholar.

Now, the inclusion of Beulah’s name here is unimportant. I could just as easily have written “My daughter is a Mensa scholar” because I have only one daughter.

My son Bubba eats paste.

Bubba, in this case, is providing essential information, identifying which of my two sons is the paste eater.

If that doesn’t help, check out Dreyer’s “Best Illustration of the Necessity of the ‘Only’ Comma I’ve Ever Managed to Rustle Up”:

Elizabeth Taylor’s second marriage, to Michael Wilding
Elizabeth Taylor’s second marriage to Richard Burton

See the difference? That one little piece of punctuation can change the entire meaning of the sentence.

Let’s go back to what Birzer wrote. The two commas on either side of Rush indicate that the name of the band is, in fact, inessential – because there is only one Canadian rock trio! Forget for a moment that that may as well be true given Rush’s supreme awesomeness; the fact remains that it isn’t true.

Remember: Only use the “only” commas when the noun you’re referring to is the only one of its kind.

Oh, and by the way, please, please don’t let my pedantry—or the name of the publication—stand in the way of an otherwise great article by Birzer. It’s a nice remembrance of a truly influential man.



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