When to Use a Comma Before “Such As”

As you may have noticed, sometimes commas flank a phrase beginning with “such as.” On other occasions, “such as” appears without a comma. English language rules for comma usage can get complicated. That’s why two sentences can look structurally similar while requiring markedly different punctuation.

Desserts, such as ice cream and chocolate bars, taste sweet.

Vegetables such as carrots and peppers are brightly colored.

Now, what’s the difference between the two sentences above? To put it plainly, all desserts taste sweet and only some vegetables are brightly colored.

Your writing, at its best

Compose bold, clear, mistake-free writing with Grammarly's AI-powered writing assistant

Identifying a Restrictive Clause

Let’s return to this sentence:

Vegetables such as carrots and peppers are brightly colored. 

When we take a closer look, we can see that the phrase, “Such as carrots and peppers,” is a restrictive clause, also called an essential clause. It restricts the relevant examples. In other words, not all vegetables are brightly colored. The additional information after the word “vegetables” is essential to the meaning of the sentence.

It’s easy to determine whether an example belongs to a restrictive clause. Simply remove the example(s) from the sentence. Does the statement still ring true?

Vegetables are brightly colored.

In this case, the specific examples are important to the meaning of the sentence. Not all vegetables have the vibrant colors of carrots and peppers. Because, “Such as carrots and peppers,” is a restrictive clause, it would not be appropriate to use commas. 

Identifying a Nonrestrictive Clause

Now, let’s take a look at a sentence in which it would be possible to remove the examples without changing the meaning. 

Desserts, such as ice cream and chocolate bars, taste sweet.

Desserts taste sweet. 

Here, ice cream and chocolate bars are specific examples of desserts; however, they are not part of a restrictive phrase. It’s generally true to say that desserts taste sweet. Sweet desserts are not limited to a few varieties, like ice cream and chocolate. Ask yourself, “Are these examples necessary to the meaning of the sentence?” If the clause is nonessential, you should place commas before the word “such” and at the end of the set of examples.

Identifying Restrictive Clauses

Take a look at the following sentences to see whether you’re able to differentiate between restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses. 

Example One

Some people take vitamins such as Vitamin A and Vitamin C as supplements. 

Ask yourself, “Would this statement be true without the bolded phrase?”

Some people take vitamins as supplements.

Since the sentence still makes sense, you know that the clause is nonrestrictive and should be written with commas. 

Some people take vitamins, such as Vitamin A and Vitamin C, as supplements.

Example Two

Countries such as the United States, England, and Canada have English-language street signs. 

Ask yourself, “Would this statement be true without the bolded phrase?”

Countries have English-language street signs.

Since not all countries post street signs in English, you can assume that the countries listed are part of a restrictive clause. Don’t add commas, since the phrase, “Such as the United States, England, and Canada,” is essential to the meaning of the sentence. 

Example Three

Grammar mistakes such as misused semicolons and comma splices should be avoided. 

Ask yourself, “would this statement be true without the bolded phrase?”

Grammar mistakes should be avoided.

Yes, the sentence above still makes sense. Misused semicolons and comma splices are two examples of the types of grammar mistakes that should be avoided. Add commas to the beginning and end of the nonrestrictive clause.

Grammar mistakes, such as misused semicolons and comma splices, should be avoided.

A Final Writing Tip

In cases that leave room for ambiguity, the writer controls the meaning by using thoughtful punctuation. 

For example, both of the sentences below are grammatically correct:

Cities such as Los Angeles and Denver are great. 

Cities, such as Los Angeles and Denver, are great. 

If you wrote the first sentence, you’d be saying that some cities are great, and you’d include Los Angeles and Denver among the great ones. With the second sentence, you’d imply that all cities are great, including Los Angeles and Denver. 

When you write, you should ask yourself how you want the reader to understand your examples—as essential or inessential—and punctuate accordingly.

Sources:

  1. http://www.cws.illinois.edu/workshop/writers/restrictiveclauses/
  2. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/such%20as
  3. https://medium.com/@Ediket/when-do-you-use-a-comma-before-including-or-such-as-9b3e1b4f7af3