Q. Please, please end a debate I recently had with my European friend over a comma issue as follows: “The Catalan archaeologist, Pere de Palol, started the excavations again.” I feel that it is necessary to delete the commas before and after the name. With them, wouldn’t the sentence imply that there is only one Catalan archaeologist? The text is going to appear on a plaque in a museum.
A. You are right, although you must keep in mind that “only one Catalan archeologist” applies only to the given context. For instance, if the text were about four archeologists and one of them were Catalan (out of all the many Catalan archeologists available), the commas would be needed: “The American, Joan Smith, excavated for three months. Six years later the Catalan archeologist, Pere de Palol, started the excavations again.” Here, “archeologist” is a nonrestrictive (descriptive) appositive. If your sentence is to stand alone on a plaque, however, without this sort of implied context, then “the Catalan archeologist Pere de Palol” is a restrictive (defining) appositive, and you are right to omit the commas.