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The Writer’s Reference Book


Module 5 – Using Subordinate Phrases – Hint Sheet

Appositive Phrases – An appositive follows a noun and renames or explains it. When it gives additional information, it is set off by commas. If it gives essential information to identify which thing is being discussed, it is not set off by commas.

Commas after nonessential information

  • My father, a lawyer, is not wealthy.
  • Jim, my best friend, lives next door to me.

No commas after essential information

  • The lawyers Smith and Wesson are not wealthy.
  • My pal Jim lives next to me.

    To check whether commas are needed, eliminate the appositive and look to see if the topic is clear; if it is, use commas.

Participles – Participles end in -ing, -en, -n, or -t. When participles give additional information, they are set off from the sentence by commas. When they give essential information to identify the topic of discussion, they are not set off by commas. When they come at the beginning of the sentence, they are always followed by commas.

Commas after nonessential information

  • The loser, dejected and heartbroken, sat alone.
  • The children played enthusiastically, screaming with joy.

No commas after essential information

  • The student copying answers from another paper was thrown out of the class.
  • The bill paid last week was not recorded.

Participles at the beginning of the sentence

  • Running through the woods, the wolves closed in on the prey.
  • Broken in spirit, the soldiers retreated.

Dangling Participle Phrases – Be sure that participial phrases modify the correct word. When they come first, they must modify the subject. If they don't, they are said to be dangling.

  • Correct:: Walking down the street, the boy spotted the fire.
  • Incorrect: Walking down the street, the fire was spotted. (The fire was not walking down the street.)
  • Correct:: Weakened by hunger, the lost hiker staggered.
  • Incorrect: Weakened by hunger, the buzzards circled above the staggering hiker. (The buzzards were not weakened by hunger.)

Infinitives – Infinitives always begin with TO and contain the main part of the verb: to go, to do, to remember, etc. They should not be split inappropriately.

  • Correct:: He wanted to clearly explain the answer.
  • Incorrect: He wanted to very clearly and with no confusion explain the answer.
  • Correct:: The old bus began to pull away from the stop with a loud noise.
  • Incorrect: The old bus began to with a loud noise pull away.
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