Comma Use In a Sentence: the Interrupter -- Grammar Rules

What is an Interrupter?

An interrupter, well, interrupts the flow of a sentence, and can be in the form of a single word, a phrase, or a clause. Interrupters are used for emphasis, to indicate a switch in tone, to qualify a subject, or as a side note. Interrupters are usually punctuated with commas or em dashes on both sides of the word, phrase, or clause. Here are a few examples of interrupters punctuated with commas:

  • For emphasis: My sister, to be honest, did not do her research.
  • To indicate a switch in tone: The puppy wanted to play with string. The kitten, however, had a different plan in mind.
  • To qualify a subject: Some pop stars, Katy Perry for example, will end up on reality televisions shows.
  • As a side note: The iPhone 5, surprisingly, was not released before my birthday.

Interrupters can also be indicated with em dashes for more emphasis. Here are a few examples of interrupters punctuated with em dashes:

  • For emphasis: I really wanted to try the steak--believe me--but I can't eat red meat on my new diet.
  • To qualify a subject: The three piranhas--named Shimmer, Glimmer, and Sparkle--freaked out during the move.
  • As a side note: I ordered a drink--the fruity kind--and some idiot knocked it over as soon as they served it.

Using an interrupter as a side note gives you, as the writer, a lot of freedom. It also means that the definition of an interrupter is very broad. The best way to decide whether or not to use a word, phrase, or clause as an interrupter is to ask whether it merits emphasis or is important enough to be singled out. If it is, it may be a good style choice to separate it with commas or em dashes.

Examples of Common Interrupters

Used with Commas
Used with Em Dashes
for example
believe me
however
aptly named/called...
commonly
but I disagree
on the other hand
in fact
generally
to say the least
although
time/weather permitting
conversely
to be honest
surprisingly
and I suppose that's right/correct
alternatively
but I thought/wanted/voted for...
These examples are not used exclusively used in the way they are listed. These are just common examples to help aid you as you make your style choices.

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Comments 8 comments

SarahLinny profile image

SarahLinny 22 months ago from Philadelphia, PA Author

I apologize for not responding sooner. I took a hiatus and never updated my Hubpages profile with that information! The example you provided would probably be better answered with a little more context. Try this resource for answers: https://writing.wisc.edu/Handbook/Dashes.html.


Vyn 2 years ago

Thanks! I've been looking all over the internet for an example of "well" as interrupter and I've finally found it here where you used it in your first sentence! "An interrupter, well, interrupts..."

May I ask one thing, though? If the commas are changed into dashes, would it be acceptable? For example, "While John--well--he had always seen the kindness the girl possessed."

Once again, thank you!


Aliswell profile image

Aliswell 4 years ago from Iowa

Excellent explanation, Sarah. I would hope to someday, be able to incorporate all the proper usages into either a short story, poem, novel, technical manual...on the pure and simple way to change my imagination towards both, financial, healthful, and mental images..., but time will tell!


anon 4 years ago

nice page! Thanks for the tips!


SarahLinny profile image

SarahLinny 4 years ago from Philadelphia, PA Author

FaisalKhan,

"In fact" is, in fact, an interrupter. You'd use it just as I did in the preceding sentence, with a comma on either side. If you would like to say "and, in fact," you would use a comma after "and" and after "fact." In some cases, you'll use a comma before the "and" as well. I'm in the process of writing a Hub about commas, so keep an eye out!

Hope that helps.


kerlynb profile image

kerlynb 4 years ago from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^

Thanks thanks for the mini-class! You explained the topic so clearly. Voting your interrupter hub useful :)


Hub Llama profile image

Hub Llama 4 years ago from Denver, CO

Nice. They can be overdone, of course, but when used properly they can add a lot to your writing. Thanks for the tips.


jessramblings profile image

jessramblings 4 years ago from New Jersey

Oh, thank you for this! As a writer commas are my worst enemy and I'm sure I probably misused some in this comment, lol. Very useful hub!

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