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Consider the following phrase:

If the fruit is an apple, it should be given to children.

Is the comma after apple necessary? Is it optional? Is it wrong?

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Thanks for the edit, Reg! –  Michael Goldshteyn Nov 3 '10 at 15:33
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up vote 12 down vote accepted

In that case, the comma is optional. According to the Wikipedia page on Comma:

In English, a comma is generally used to separate a dependent clause from the independent clause if the dependent clause comes first: After I brushed the cat, I lint-rollered my clothes. (Compare I lint-rollered my clothes after I brushed the cat.)

(..)

While many style guides call for commas, many authors omit them, particularly with short sentences.

The two paragraphs that I extracted from the article apply to your sentence. It's a short sentence with a dependent clause (if the item is an apple) and an independent clause (it should be given to children), where the dependent clause comes first.

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I agree that the comma is optional, but my advice would be "if in doubt, include it". –  Marthaª Nov 3 '10 at 20:30
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