I wrote about commas in introductory phrases last week. This week let's take the issue of introductory elements a step further, differentiating introductory phrases from introductory clauses. But first, let's look at some answers from last week's challenge:
Once again, our reader Jing Ping Fan (JP) comes through with a perfect set of answers, annotated with explanations. Thank you! Her answers are perfect, but she also notes which commas are needed versus optional. Plus, bonus, she explains that number 5 needs the comma because the introductory element is a clause, not a phrase.
- After the sudden afternoon rainstorm, three kids were rescued from a flash flood. (comma needed)
- Before noon, we had already covered all of the class material. (comma optional)
- In 2010 our outreach program was updated to include a Twitter feed. (comma optional)
- Sometime after 2012 is when support for version 3.5 will end. (No comma)
- Unless the creek floods, we will go kayaking tomorrow. (comma needed Note: When an adverb clause begins the sentence, use a comma to separate the two clauses.)
- By the end of the session, we all understood introductory elements. (comma preferred)
- Yesterday the website was down for an hour. (comma optional, but prefer not to add in this type of sentence)
- Tomorrow is our deadline for completing these two modules. (No comma)
If your answers do not match the ones above, you still may have them punctuated correctly. For example, Audrey McAfee also used correct punctuation on all of the sentences, but she put commas in all of them except number 7.
Karen L. Busser also sent in correct answers, and sheadded her own trick for telling whether the introductory word is really introductory: if you can move the introductory element to the end of the sentence without changing the meaning or changing the sentence into a question, then it is introductory. Once you are sure the element is introductory, you then decide whether the comma is needed by the guidelines mentioned in my previous article.
Mary Saunders sent in a set of correct answers, and added, "We use the Microsoft Manual of Style for Technical Publications(Third Edition), which states, 'Use a comma following an introductory phrase.' This rule makes it easy for us!"
If you incorrectly punctuated some of the sample sentences, check this: a comma is required if the introductory element has five words. A short phrase of time or place is comma-optional only if it is less than five words: one, two, three, or four words long.
Let's now look at some introductory phrases that require commas. Did you notice the word phrases in that last sentence? To get to the next level with commas, you need to identify phrases versus clauses. Let's tackle that concept now.
Phrase Versus Clause
A phrase is a group of words that does not contain a subject-verb combination.
A clause is a group of words that does contain a subject and a verb.
Phrase: after the storm
Clause: after the storm was over [storm is the subject; was is the verb]
Phrase: Until noon
Clause: Until she arrived [she is the subject; arrived is the verb]
Phrase: Because of the flood
Clause: Because the river flooded [river is the subject; flooded is the verb]
Notice that a phrase and a clause may start with the same word! What makes one of them a clause, however, is a subject and a verb. The clauses we are focusing on here are, as JP mentioned above, adverbial clauses. That means they contain information explaining things like when, where, in what manner, and why.
Introductory adverbial clauses require a comma. Short (fewer than five words) introductory phrases of time or place do not. Their comma is optional.
Challenge: Phrases Versus Clauses
Identify each of these introductory elements as a phrase or a clause, and indicate whether a comma is required. As always, send your answers/comments directly to me.
- Until the barn is full we will continue to deliver hay.
- Until yesterday we did not know the groundhog was under the shed.
- Because the hawk was flying overhead the small birds hid in the bushes.
- Because of the hawk's cry, all of the squirrels froze in their tracks.
- During the cool and damp early morning hours we stayed on the screened porch.
- While the children played in the pool we sat in the shade.
- After you click the icon once you must wait for the picture to fully load.
- After lunch we will cover photo filtering.
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