Grammar Lesson #3
Commas and Introductory Clauses, Commas and
Dependent Clauses, and Misplaced Commas
Commas: How Do They
Essentially, a comma flags a “pause” in your writing. It is a visual cue for the reader
to inflect his/her mental reading of the text in the same way he/she would do when
reading it out loud. After all, read this sentence without the pause. You sound like a
robot, don’t you? Yup.
Commas also signal to the reader that useful information is forthcoming. They show
where a noun is going to be modified or re-defined (in the case with Introductory
and Dependent clauses) as well as where two sentences are being joined together
with a conjunction (see Lesson #2 Run-ons and Comma Splices).
They also work to separate the elements within a list of three or more items. Ex: I
went to the store and bought apples, oranges, bananas, and milk.
What is an “Introductory
In essence, an introductory clause is a word or phrase that “introduces” or gives a
little lead-in to the sentence.
Introductory clauses help to vary your sentence structure and prevent choppy
sentences (see Lesson #1).
The comma helps to set off the introductory clause and lets the reader know that
the information is useful background information for the “meat” of the sentence.
Ex: Although it was raining, I left my umbrella at home.
Introductory Clause Sentence the clause pertains to
Clauses in Your Writing
One thing to keep in mind is that introductory clauses typically begin with adverbs such as:
after, although, as, because, before, however, if, meanwhile, nonetheless, since, though,
until, etc. So a simple way to find them in your papers is to use the find feature in your word
processor and search for these types of adverbs. If you begin a sentence with an adverb such
as these, you probably have an introductory clause--and it will need a comma to separate it
from the rest of the sentence.
Another thing to keep in mind is that introductory clauses are unnecessary for the sentence to
make sense. Think of the previous example. “I left my umbrella at home” can stand alone.
The introductory clause simply gives some background information--in this case, it explains
why leaving my umbrella at home is a concern: it’s raining.
Lastly, another way to find where to place the comma is through the pause method. If you
read the sentence out loud slowly, and there’s a pause, 9 times out of 10, you need a comma
BE SURE TO USE ALL THREE TECHNIQUES TOGETHER WHEN LOOKING FOR
INTRODUCTORY CLAUSES. AFTER ALL, THERE IS THAT 1 TIME OUT OF 10 THAT A
COMMA IS NOT THE PUNCTUATION YOU NEED!
What is a “Dependent
Like introductory clauses, dependent clauses provide useful information within a
sentence. However, unlike introductory clauses, dependent clauses come in the
middle of the sentence rather than the beginning.
DEPENDENT CLAUSES ARE SET OFF WITH COMMAS BEFORE AND AFTER
Also like introductory clauses, the information isn’t absolutely necessary for the
sentence to make sense.
Ex: John, the boy with the blue hat, is in the back of the room
One could easily just say that “John is in the back of the room,” and the
sentence would be complete. However, the dependent clause, “the boy with
the blue hat” identifies which boy the speaker is referring to. Perhaps there are
five boys in the back of the room. Just saying that John is in the back isn’t
Finding Dependent Clauses
in Your Writing: Part 1
One way to find them is to look for an “Appositive Phrase.” But what the heck is
that??? Simply put, look for where there is a phrase that modifies (or explains) a
noun in some way. One way to do this is to read your paper out loud, from last
sentence to the first and look specifically for these types of modifiers. It’s essential
that you only look for one type of problem at a time as looking for more than one
issue at a time can be confusing and make it harder to find any errors whatsoever!
Ex: According to John Smith, author of “The Way We Write,” finding appositive
phrases can be difficult (22).
The yellow phrase here modifies John Smith and lets the reader know who he is.
It’s not necessary for the sentence to make sense, but it provides some info
regarding his credibility as a source.
Finding Dependent Clauses
in Your Writing: Part 2
You can also have a respected friend or classmate read your paper
and ask him/her to flag wherever you provide defining information or
modify a noun in any way.
Another way to find where to place the commas is through the pause
method. If you read the sentence out loud slowly, and there’s a
pause, 9 times out of 10, you need a comma there.
BE SURE TO USE ALL OF THE PROVIDED TECHNIQUES
TOGETHER WHEN LOOKING FOR DEPENDENT CLAUSES.
AFTER ALL, THERE IS THAT 1 TIME OUT OF 10 THAT A COMMA
IS NOT THE PUNCTUATION YOU NEED!
What is a “Misplaced
Simply put, a misplaced comma is one that doesn’t belong there. They
happen for a couple of reasons:
They can be typos that are easily overlooked in proofreading.
They can occur because the writer is unfamiliar with the rules for
commas and places them in incorrect spots.
Ex: Although, it was raining I forgot my umbrella.
Ex: I like peanut butter, and jelly. (This is an example of when a writer is
trying to use a comma in a list--see slide 2--but only has 2 things in the
list. There needs to be at LEAST 3 items in a list for a comma to be
Commas are also often misplaced when using quotation marks within writing. Consider the
John asked, “when is lunch?”
While John asked, “when is lunch?” Mary began eating her apple.
Smith writes that “commas can be particularly difficult to place when writing,” and
suggests that students need to review rules more often (33).
Note that in the first two examples, there is a comma before the quote, but in the third
example, there isn’t. Why? Well, “Smith writes that” isn’t an introductory clause. Imagine
the same sentence like this: Smith said that commas are a pain in the butt. Notice
there’s no comma? But if I wrote, John asked when is lunch, the sentence would be
wrong. This is where the pause method is particularly useful. There is a pause after
“asked” but there isn’t after “that.” REMEMBER: ALTHOUGH YOU’RE USING
QUOTATION MARKS, YOU DON’T ALWAYS NEED A COMMA BEFORE THEM.
Finding and Fixing
The easiest way to find commas in your writing is through the find feature in your
word processing software. Simply type a comma in the search bar, and the software
will find every comma in your paper for you!
Then read the sentences where your commas appear and look for introductory
clauses, dependent clauses, lists, and conjunctive words (see Lesson #2 Run-ons
and Comma Splices).
Another way to find where to place the commas is through the pause method. If you
read the sentence out loud slowly, and there’s a pause, 9 times out of 10, you need
a comma there.
BE SURE TO USE ALL OF THE PROVIDED TECHNIQUES TOGETHER WHEN
LOOKING FOR DEPENDENT CLAUSES. AFTER ALL, THERE IS THAT 1 TIME
OUT OF 10 THAT A COMMA IS NOT THE PUNCTUATION YOU NEED!