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Closer Look on the Use of Commas in Introductory Clauses

Commas and introductory clauses

Introductory clauses are classified as dependent clauses that provide context for the sentence. They are said to set the tone for the main part of the sentence, in this case, an independent clause. Some common examples are:

✔️ If they are determined to take the test,they need to pass the training period first.

(Introductory dependent clause starts with “if,” whereas the main clause begins with “they”)

✔️ Because the cat continued to play with his favorite toy,we decided to leave him alone.

(Introductory dependent clause starts with “because,” whereas the main clause starts with “we”)

Introductory clauses usually start with adverbs, listed below:

  • before
  • if
  • since
  • until
  • when
  • after
  • although
  • because
  • before

Commas and introductory phrases

Before we move on to the use of commas in introductory phrases, it is necessary to define these phrases. They are meant to set the atmosphere for the main sentence. However, they cannot be referred to as complete clauses because they don’t have a separate verb and a separate subject. Subjects and verbs in introductory phrases are always related to the main clause of the sentence. Researchers name the common types of introductory phrases you can come across in text:

  • Introductory prepositional phrases
  • Introductory infinitive phrases
  • Introductory participial phrases
  • Introductory absolute phrases
  • Introductory appositive phrases

Introductory prepositional phrases are used with a preposition and words that follow it. The main purpose of a prepositional phrase is to add background information to the main part of the sentence. A comma is used after the introductory prepositional phrase to separate it from the rest of the sentence.

  • After the massive thunderstorm, the weather improved considerably.
  • At the beginning of the novel, the character comes across a strange artifact.
  • Along the way to my neighbor’s observatory, I saw the constellation Cassiopeia.
  • Opening a jar of biscuits, I discovered there were several chocolate ones left.

Introductory infinitive phrases are also used to provide the readers with additional layers of information. Infinitive phrases always include a verb and may contain a direct object of the said verb. It is good to remember that a comma should be used after an introductory infinitive phrase.

  • To create an engaging story, start with the plot that catches your attention.
  • To make a perfect apple pie, I use an old recipe that has a secret ingredient.
  • To land a job of your dream, study the career opportunities in your neighborhood.
  • To become successful in this area, you need to enhance your leadership position.

Participial phrases are often compared to verb phrases since they may have a direct object. The role of a participial phrase is to prepare the readers for what is going to happen in the independent clause. Participial phrases are set off with a comma:

  • Having finished his everyday routine, Jordan went out for a walk.
  • Moving quickly, the persecutors managed to catch up with the suspects.
  • Opening his eyes, he saw that he was in a room decorated in nineteenth-century fashion.
  • Standing in front of the open window, Jessica noticed that the kids were no longer there.

An absolute phrase is the one that helps the readers with their interpretation of the main clause. This is the kind of phrase that adds information on why the current events are happening. An introductory absolute phrase needs to be used with a comma:

  • Completely unaware of the torrential rain, the couple stood looking in each other’s eyes intently.
  • Though the smell of the perfume was overwhelming, Laura found that she didn’t mind it.
  • Voice cracking, the man begged to stay in the same room as the other passengers.
  • Their hands touching, they sat in absolute silence for half an hour before others came.

An appositive phrase is the one that provides the audience with an alternative description of the subject. If the sentence begins with an appositive introductory phrase, a comma needs to be used after it. If the appositive phrase is not essential for the meaning of the text, it needs to be set off as follows:

  • A thoughtful customer, Aaron came back to thank the cashier for the excellent service.
  • A fine cook, Lisa knew what she needed to add to the soup to make it fantastic.
  • A combination of light and darkness, the series was truly a sight to behold.
  • An engaging account of the group’s adventures, the show was thrilling from start to finish.

However, there are introductory appositive phrases that are crucial for the meaning of the sentence. In this case, a comma should not be used. To determine whether the appositive phrase is essential, decide whether it adds any important context to the narrative. Some appositive phrases start with the definite article “the”:

  • The British studies at the University of California were my favorite.
  • The sociology teacher was the one who showed up late for class.
  • The esteemed writer Judy Blake needed to be at the meeting late at night.
  • The top manager wanted the tasks to be performed efficiently.

How to use a comma in introductory clauses

Introductory elements are generally used with a comma, but this is not an established rule.

Comma is also used:

After an introductory clause ✔️Because the thunder was so loud, they could not hear the radio playing in the room.
After multiple prepositional phrases ✔️He lived in this city, with his brother, between 2001 and 2004.
After introductory verbal phrases ✔️For a man who has been through it all, a little bit of rain did not mean anything.
After a natural pause in a sentence ✔️After a long night outside, he was glad to climb into bed.

Comma misuse in introductory clauses

Some introductory clauses do not need a comma. There are subjects in a sentence that are similar to introductory elements, but are not the same. In this case, a comma should not be used. The examples you will find below look like they need a comma after the opening clause. However, the opening clause in these sentences is a subject:

Incorrect Correct
❌To start this campaign without finishing our project, would be a ridiculous idea. ✔️To start this campaign without finishing our project would be a ridiculous idea.
❌Rounding up the colleagues and having a job-related talk, is one of the main objectives of our boss. ✔️Rounding up the colleagues and having a job-related talk is one of the main objectives of our boss.
❌Rewriting and analyzing his report for the scientific committee, was one of the most challenging tasks he had ever done. ✔️Rewriting and analyzing his report for the scientific committee was one of the most challenging tasks he had ever done.
❌Paying attention to the map and drawing the outlines, was one of the most tiring experiences. ✔️Paying attention to the map and drawing the outlines was one of the most tiring experiences.

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