English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

In which of the following cases would a comma be used before the as if clause? Does this follow the restrictive/non-restrictive rule?

  • "Hmmm," giggled the girl as if hearing the funniest joke she had ever heard.

  • He paused for awhile as if he were rearranging his thoughts in his head.

  • He was holding a jar of bright jelly with pink dots floating through it as if they were curious astronauts in space.

share|improve this question
What do you mean by the restrictive/non-restrictive rule? – TrevorD Jun 16 '13 at 15:43
@TrevorD: The OP means the difference between "People who pop gum are annoying" and "Those people, who by the way like to pop gum, are annoying". In the first case the set of people in question is restricted by the who-clause, whereas in the second it's not. Not that it makes any sense in the context of "as if" – Armen Ծիրունյան Jun 16 '13 at 15:59
@ArmenԾիրունյան Thanks. I assume pop gum is an Americanism - I've never heard that expression. – TrevorD Jun 16 '13 at 16:07
@TrevorD: Do watch the "Chicago" musical, specifically the Cell Block Tango :) – Armen Ծիրունյան Jun 16 '13 at 16:09
@ArmenԾիրունյան Nope! Never heard of it! I don't watch any musicials and veeery few films! – TrevorD Jun 16 '13 at 16:13

Personally, I would put a comma before as if in all of them.

In many cases, the use of commas comes down to personal choice or clarity.

For the reader, it is helpful to use a comma to indicate where to pause when reading, which in turn often adds to the clarity of the sentence and may obviate the need for the reader to re-read it a second time.

I found that, without the commas, I did have to 'think twice' about the sentences - and that commas would help.

share|improve this answer
When a dependent clause is restrictive, it means that the clause can not be taken out of the sentence without changing the meaning of the sentence. A non-restrictive dependent clause can be added or omitted without changing the essence of the sentence. – JEM Jun 16 '13 at 22:19

It depends upon whether "as if" introduces an essential or nonessential clause. Therefore, I would place commas in the first two examples but not the third.

share|improve this answer

Putting a comma in the third example makes it sound (to me) as if the "as if" clause modifies "holding" rather than "floating".

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.