The Appendage Comma with

Attribution Tags

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Among its six uses, the appendage comma separates attribution tags from their corresponding dialogue, discourse, action, or mentality.

Use the Comma with Quotation Attribution Tags

The appendage comma frequently occurs with the attribution tags of dialogue and discourse quotations. The attribution might appear before a quotation:

Nigel wondered,“How can anyone have more pride in their wristwatch than their wrist?”

or with a comma pair in the midst of a quotation:

“No hurry,”she said,“but right now would be great.”

or after a quotation:

“Don’t confuse weakness and meekness,”he advised.

And note in the previous example that the comma precedes the closing quotation mark in American usage.

Don’t Use It with Tags that Follow Quoted Question or Exclamation Marks

When a quotation ends with a question mark or exclamation mark immediately before an attribution tag, leave out the appendage comma so that the punctuation marks don’t compete with each other:

“Never confuse meekness for weakness!” he shouted.
“Why aren’t you hurrying?” she asked.
Use the Comma with Source Attribution Tags

Sometimes, writers use attribution tags to ascribe information or action to a source without directly quoting that source. These attribution tags also receive the appendage comma.

The prime suspect,we can now confirm,was apprehended on Monday evening.
Andrea,according to her assistant,plans to attend the conference.
Use the Comma with Psychological Attribution Tags

The same rules apply with the attribution tags of ideas and emotions:

It didn’t matter,Sheila decided.
The time had come,she felt,to move on.
Don’t Use It with Conjuncted Attributions or Running Quotations

A comma is unnecessary when a subordinate conjunction connects an attribution to its dialogue, discourse, action, or mentality:

Williams thinks that “The bathroom selfie is a sad symbol of our era. Why don’t we have any friends nearby who will take pictures of us?”
Sheila felt that it was time to move on.

Also, don’t use a comma when a quotation “runs into” a sentence in a way that makes it an integral part of the main idea:

He saw his children as “cloud shadows crawling over mountains—the evidence of something bigger.”

Knowledge Check

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How to Maintain a Sentence’s Emphasis with Attribution Tags:

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How to Maintain a Sentence’s Emphasis with Attribution Tags:

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Most English writers today structure their attributions as dependent noun clauses joined to the attributed information by the conjunction that. This is especially popular with psychological attributions:

I think that you’re going to like this tip.

Instead of habitually following this trend, you can create variety and emphasis in your sentences by using the appendage comma with attribution tags. For instance, notice how structuring the above example’s attribution as a that clause makes the focus of the sentence the speaker (“I”) and the speaker’s mind (“think”). The main sentiment of this sentence (“you’re going to like this tip”) is demoted to the verb’s object.

Now look at how an attribution tag with appendage comma shifts focus onto the main sentiment:

You’re going to like this tip,I think.

Written this way, the subject and predicate of the sentence focus on the person being spoken to and on what that person is going to enjoy, rather than on the speaker and what the speaker thinks. This structure gives emphasis to the reader instead of the writer, which is usually a better approach.

From the Comma Q & A Blog

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