comma between description & name: the Canadian journalist, XY

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Senior Member

I have seen this often and often wondered about it :). Here it is, from Jhumpa Lahiri's interview with Mavis Gallant in Granta 106:
"JL: In a television interview you did in 2005 with the Canadian journalist, Stéphan Bureau, you said, 'One can't become something.' You were talking about one's origins."

My question is about "the Canadian journalist, Stéphan Bureau."

In Romanian, we have the following rule:
"His sister Amalia did this and that" if Amalia is one of his sisters (he has several sisters)
"His sister, Amalia, did this and that" if he has only one sister

Ever since I learned it as a kid it made a lot of sense to me. So I'm wondering why the comma is needed in the above passage.

Thank you!
Last edited:
  • e2efour

    Senior Member
    UK English
    I think you will see this phrase with and without the commas.
    However, it is possible to interpret it as if there was only one Canadian journalist, which is one reason for writing the Canadian journalist Stéphan Bureau.
    Put it the other way round and the commas are needed: Stéphan Bureau, the Canadian journalist,...

    I agree that if we separate Amalia with commas, there is only one sister. But it is not certain that His sister Amalia would be understood by everyone as meaning that he has more than one sister. The commas are often left out.


    Senior Member
    Hi e2efour, and thank you. Yes, I agree that in English there's a lot of "his sister Amalia" without the commas. That sounds fine to me. However, I see "the Canadian journalist, Stéphan Bureau" as suggesting there's only one Canadian journalist, as you say. In this case, I would do without the comma. Good to hear you have noticed instances where this comma is not used.


    Member Emeritus
    English - US
    I see "the Canadian journalist, Stéphan Bureau" as suggesting there's only one Canadian journalist.
    Susanna, in my opinion you're right. When we say the Canadian journalist, Stéphan Bureau," that does say that he's the one and only Canadian journalist. It's equivalent to "the Canadian journalist, whose name is Stéphan Bureau".

    This is confirmed by Bryan Garner in Garner's Modern American Usage, who writes, "A person might write my brother Blair to distinguish Blair from another brother (say, Brad). But if Blair were the only brother, the reference should be to my brother, Blair."


    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    The comma should map to something in speech, or it's misplaced. In a Canadian journalist, Stéphan Bureau, there are fall-rises on \/jour- and -\/reau, indicating that Stéphan Bureau is parenthetic. But the Canadian journalist Stéphan Bureau has only the one tone on the last name: we just don't say this construction with a comma in the middle.

    Both my brother George and my brother, George, can be said, even if I only have the one brother. It's not about defining or non-defining - though it corresponds to different intonational constructions with a and the in the original example.


    Senior Member
    USA English
    In my rather extensive experience with writing for broadcast delivery, I've noted that this construction is very common in that context.

    Usually, it's because the name is secondary to the message.

    Take, for example, the following:

    "A Portland man died after falling from his roof today. The man, Geroge K. Lumsey, was pronounced dead at the scene." Unless you're friends or family with clumsy George, the name is probably of little interest.

    This is not the same as when celebrities or important people are involved, e.g.

    "Lindsay Lohan was arrested at 4 AM Thursday in New York City for allegedly punching a woman at a New York City nightclub ... law enforcement sources tell TMZ." (link to page not included because it contains video)

    In this case, the identity of the miscreant is the more important part of the message.

    This is not quite the same as the original post, if the journalist was moderately well-known, but my point is that people who write broadcast copy get into a rut and apply many terms as a conditioned response.

    I've had to rap knuckles in the past (figuratively, of course) with people who can't rise above their habits.


    Senior Member
    etb: I see what you're saying about intonation.
    sdgraham: I see no problem with "The man, George K. Lumsey" because it follows the other sentence. But I do see your point about news involving regular people vs. celebrities.
    Thank you both!
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