Properly Punctuated: Interrupter

Posted December 13, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Properly Punctuated, Self-Editing, Writing

An interrupter is one example of a parenthetical element, and it breaks up a thought, switches emotions, changes the tone, or adds emphasis in your story using words, commas, em dashes or parentheses, or the vocative case.

If you’re not sure, read the sentence or paragraph out loud. You will naturally pause where commas (dashes or parentheses) should be placed.

And, yes, there are “rules” about the em dash and parentheses, primarily that of the depth and type of emphasis you want. You may want to explore this in more depth in the posts on “Em, 2-Em, & 3-Em Dashes” and “Parentheses“. “The Mystery of the Comma and the Vocative Case” has its own rules.

The Properly Punctuated explores…

…the proper use of quotation marks, commas, semicolons, colons, ellipsis, etc., including how to properly mark dialog, ahem. As Properly Punctuated is in no way complete, I would appreciate suggestions and comments from anyone on punctuation with which you struggle or on which you can contribute more understanding.

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Credit to:
Definition: A word, phrase, or clause that significantly breaks the flow of a thought, emotion, tone, or an added emphasis which requires a pause for your reader.

Sometimes confused with conjunctive adverbs.

Partial List of Interrupter Words
generally speaking
however *
in fact
to say the least
Names (George, Henry, Mabel, Sara, Derrick, etc.)

Titles (darling, baby, honey, Sir Henry, Lady Margaret, Mom, Dad, etc.)

Traditional Rule: Commas are placed before and after an interrupter when used in the middle of a sentence
Queen Victoria was, as they say, a formidable woman.

Having demonstrated a decided lack of ethics, the CEO was, needless to say, dismissed from the company.

My essay, to be perfectly honest, flew out of the bus window while I was riding to school.

What you just ate, if you must know, was squid eyeball stew.


  1. Green indicates the interruption
Contemporary Rule: A more modern interpretation of this is the use of em dashes or parentheses placed before and after an interrupter when used in the middle of a sentence
Queen Victoria was—as they say— a formidable woman.

Having demonstrated a decided lack of ethics, the CEO was (needless to say) dismissed from the company.

So let’s beat back this unnecessary, unfair and—let’s not mince words—cruel attack on working Americans (

Queen Victoria was (as they say) a formidable woman.

So let’s beat back this unnecessary, unfair and (let’s not mince words) cruel attack on working Americans.

NOTE: Punctuating with parentheses.
Rule: At the end of the sentence, the period (or question/exclamation mark) is outside the ending parenthesis. Derek asked me out (but he’s such a jerk).
Rule: Encloses a complete sentence, the ending punctuation is inside the ending parenthesis. Derek asked me out. (He is such a jerk.)
Rule: In a series, the comma is after the ending parenthesis I picked up a Bernard Cornwell, the latest David Weber (it’s an Honor Harrington!), and a Laurell K. Hamilton.
Rule: Within a sentence AND the enclosed parenthetical text is more than one sentence, punctuate everything but the last sentence The instructions (Place tab A in the slot. Leave tab B alone) were confusing (Live Write Thrive).
Vocative Case: When someone is being directly addressed — the person’s name, title, epithet, endearment, or some other form of address — use a comma to set that direct address off from the rest of the sentence.
Please take those smelly socks to the garage, Kris, and put them in the washing machine.

What, Susan, do you think?

Now, darling, where do you suppose you put your housekeys?

Hey, baby, bring me a beer.

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves? Also, please note that I try to be as accurate as I can, but mistakes happen or I miss something. Email me if you find errors, so I can fix them…and we’ll all benefit!

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Pinterest Photo Credits:

“USCGC Polar Sea” by Jcmurphy (Originally copied on en.wikipedia) is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.