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Should there be a comma after 1975?

Peter Singer wrote Animal Liberation in 1975, igniting the modern animal movement.

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I'd write it as "in 1975 and ignited" or "In 1975, Peter Singer wrote Animal Liberation, which ignited..." or "Peter Singer wrote Animal Liberation in 1975, which ignited...". I find that gerund-phrase-tack-on too often ambiguous. –  user21497 Mar 21 '13 at 3:46
    
It works here, but the comma needs to be included. Moving it to after Liberation changes the meaning. I agree that the -ing-participial-clause-tack-on is often ambiguous, but would say that igniting here is more verbal than nounal, and most authorities disallow the term 'gerund' for this usage (some disallow it altogether). Authorities are divided over whether to call -ing - whatsits phrases or (non-finite) clauses. –  Edwin Ashworth Mar 21 '13 at 14:20

2 Answers 2

In “Peter Singer wrote Animal Liberation in 1975, igniting the modern animal movement”, the part after “1975,” is a non-essential dependent clause, so a comma is appropriate to separate it from the independent clause before it. See wikipedia's subordinate clause article.

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Unquestionably. "Igniting" is the beginning of a dependent clause (a clause that adds information to an independent clause). It can't stand alone as a sentence, and it adds information to the independent clause ("Peter Singer wrote Animal Liberation in 1975"), but it is not necessary to the meaning of the independent clause. This makes it a non-essential clause, and it therefore must be set off by a comma.

You might think of it this way: It's a separate thought from the main one, so separate it with a comma. If it was a necessary and integral continuation of the main thought, you wouldn't separate it this way (but you would need a subordinating conjunction - and that's another discussion).

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