This article is part of a series about the humble comma, and discusses its role as a separator of introductory clauses.
When deciding where to use commas, look carefully at your sentence to see where a pause or logical separation is required.
The above was an example of an introductory clause. “When deciding where to use commas” sets the context for the rest of the sentence. However, “When deciding where to use commas” is not a complete sentence, so it cannot be accused of being part of a comma splice.
Introductory clauses can be an adverb, an adverbial phrase, a subordinate clause, a word of exclamation, or a participial phrase. The following is an example of each type.
Slowly, the drill ate into the rock.
Before closing the door, Dave checked that his pass card was in his pocket.
Until heck gets really chilly, The Prince of Insufficient Light will continue to reign.
Ah, I see you avoid writing the word h-e-l-l!
Encouraged by the laughter, Dave continued his presentation in his unconventional style.
In several of these types of introductory material, there are exceptions where a comma is not required.
For example, if the introductory phrase is short and expresses time or place, the comma is inappropriate.
Another exception relates to adverbial phrases that immediately precede the verbs they modify.
In front of the car wandered the most enormous moose he’d ever seen.
The Chicago Manual of Style contains no fewer than thirty-eight sections describing various uses of the comma. This article addresses just three of them.
It may be humble, but the comma is very useful and versatile. It shows us where to pause (and breathe in!) when reading, and it separates words and phrases in ways that add meaning and/or eliminate ambiguity.
Its use and placement is a mixture of rules, guidelines and personal style. Given that statement, you may be better advised to become familiar with the situations where it should not be used; if that idea appeals to you, then let me know, and I’ll conclude this series with a reasonably comprehensive list of those situations.
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