Modifying phrases add information, often providing valuable or interesting details that clarify or expand ideas. Setting off these phrases with punctuation helps the reader understand the relationship between the modification and the main thought.
Whenever you punctuate a modifying phrase, there are always three options, and the marks are properly used in pairs.
1. Use commas to convey neutrality.
2. Use parentheses to indicate that the modifying phrase is an aside.
3. Use dashes to highlight an abrupt change or to add emphasis.
Consider how the meaning of the sentence below changes when it's punctuated these three different ways:
1. Tyra, recipient of last year's Employee of the Year award, made the arrangements for the annual banquet.
2. Tyra (recipient of last year's Employee of the Year award) made the arrangements for the annual banquet.
3. Tyra—recipient of last year's Employee of the Year award—made the arrangements for the annual banquet.
The information that Tyra won the award is delivered in three distinct ways. In the first example, the information about the award is presented in a matter-of-fact manner, as indicated by the commas. In the second example, the information is presented as an aside; it's downplayed, as indicated by the parentheses. Dashes, used in the third example, suggest that the information is hot news, as if it's being hollered from the rooftops.
Make your choice based on the meaning you intend to convey: commas are neutral, parentheses whisper, and dashes yell.
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