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What is an interrupting clause?

Updated: Oct 13, 2023

Without realising it, you use interrupting clauses daily. Our spontaneous speech, and often non-formal writing, is riddled with it. So, what is this mysterious type of clause (unit of a sentence) that requires extra attention when writing and proofreading?

A: 'You know, like, he said, like, that he'd already done that!' B: 'No way!' A: 'Yes way! And, well, obviously, now I need to change, uh, our holiday plans.'

In the example above, 'like', 'well', and 'uh' interrupted A's sentences. They are part of the sentence, however, they break the sentence up midway. Just like however did in the previous sentence. During conversation, these interrupting clauses give the speaker extra time to think, as a conversation is usually spontaneous and not planned. Conversation also relies on listening to the other person, and one has to think on the spot about how to respond.

Interrupting clauses are a part of life; everyone uses them. In writing, though, you have to show by using commas, parentheses, or dashes where these words interrupt the intended sentence.

The complete sentences, uninterrupted, would be: You know he said that he'd already done that and Yes way! And obviously, now I need to change our holiday plans.

An interrupting clause can also be a sentence instead of a single word. Take this example:

We were playing Monopoly, that game where you can buy streets and get rich, and I was the dog.

In this sentence, that game where you can buy streets and get rich is the interrupting clause. When you come across an interrupter like this, you can make it clear to your reader by using commas (the example above) or parentheses:

We were playing Monopoly (that game where you can buy streets and get rich), and I was the dog.

Or dashes (the UK prefers to use the 'en dash', and the US prefers the 'em dash', you can read more about dashes here):

We were playing Monopoly – that game where you can buy streets and get rich – and I was the dog.

Keep an eye out for them, as it can be confusing for the reader when they are not punctuated properly. You may think there are too many commas in a sentence when there is dialogue, however, when it comes to interrupting clauses, you rather be safe than sorry, as the meaning of the sentence may change depending on the punctuation!

Punctuation is highly personal. Some people choose to omit certain commas for flow. For example, when an exciting scene is happening, some authors choose to not break up their readers' reading flow to keep the suspense high. While others may think it's nonsense and want to keep things simple.

The power of punctuation. Do we eat Grandma, or do we eat with Grandma?
Let's eat Grandma. Let's eat, Grandma.

If you choose to omit commas, always make sure that the meaning of your sentence hasn't changed. Because a comma can save a life.

I hope this blog post was useful and that you're walking away with some ideas on dealing with the interrupting clauses you come across in your writing or others' writing.

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