Should ‘Such As’ Be Preceded By a Comma?

comma w/such asIf you visit online grammar forums, you know that the comma is the most asked-about punctuation mark.

If you get confused about comma use with such as, you have company: me!

Let’s look at some examples and some explanations.

Nonessential such as

Consider that we often use such as when we present an example of something:

  • Please paint red flowers.
  • Please paint red flowers, such as roses, poppies and tulips.
  • We’ll spend this year’s vacation traveling to an island country.
  • We’ll spend this year’s vacation traveling to an island country, such as Australia or New Zealand.
  • To become a competent blogger, you need to understand how to use punctuation marks.
  • To become a competent blogger, you need to understand how to use punctuation marks, such as apostrophes and commas.

In these examples, the words that follow such as provide additional information, but the details are not vital to understanding the basic message. A comma before such as signals the nonessential nature of what follows: It could be deleted.

Essential such as

In the following statements, the examples after such as are necessary — are essential for the sentence to have meaning.

  • Bistros are rated among the most popular in New York City.
  • Bistros such as BLVD Bistro, Little Frog and Between The Bread are rated among the most popular in New York City.

 

  • Desserts are my favorites.
  • Desserts such as chocolate layer cake, crème brûlée and pecan pie are my favorites.

 

  • Experiences have left permanent emotional scars.
  • Experiences such as being bullied as a child have left permanent emotional scars.

Without the information included with such as, each statement leaves a reader wondering:

    • Which bistros?
    • Which desserts?
    • What kinds of experiences?

Online sources that explain how to use commas with such as talk about essential (or restrictive) clauses versus nonessential (or nonrestrictive) clauses. I choose to ignore the restrictive and nonrestrictive labels; essential or nonessential are easier to understand.

To review, here are examples from this post with the appropriate label:

Nonessential (unnecessary, so set off with a comma)

  • Please paint red flowers, such as roses, poppies and tulips.

 

  • We’ll spend this year’s vacation traveling to an island country, such as Australia or New Zealand.

 

  • To become a competent writer, you need to understand how to use punctuation marks, such as apostrophes and commas.

Essential (necessary, so not set off with/separated by a comma)

  • Bistros such as BLVD Bistro, Little Frog and Between The Bread are rated among the most popular in New York City.

 

  • Favorites such as chocolate layer cake, crème brûlée and pecan pie adorn the dessert cart.

 

  • Experiences such as being bullied as a child have left permanent emotional scars.

Despite my many years as a professional writer/editor, it took a question from a blog follower to prompt me to get my head around the proper use of the comma with such as. I comfort myself with this thought: English grammar is complex; no one can know it all.

Whether you’re blogging, writing emails, formatting your résumé or creating reports for work, I hope you have many years during which you can apply this comma guideline whenever a question arises about such as. It eluded me for too long!

And maybe you have a friend or colleague who would appreciate the insight.

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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)

2 thoughts on “Should ‘Such As’ Be Preceded By a Comma?

    1. Kathy WatsonKathy Watson Post author

      Tetiana, yes, I believe “such as” sometimes can be used instead of a colon. Consider these slightly modified examples from my book:

      • My parents had a hard-and-fast rule for school nights: no television until homework was done.
      • My parents had hard-and-fast rules for school nights, such as no phone time and no television until homework was done.

      • There are many reasons college freshmen gain weight their first year away from home: stress, dorm food, late-night study snacks, and of course beer.
      • There are many reasons college freshmen gain weight their first year away from home, such as stress, dorm food, late-night study snacks, and of course beer.

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