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I am just writing my master thesis and I am unsure whether to place a comma in sentences starting with "To".

Here are some examples:

  • To be able to improve the performance[,] it is important to discover the performance issues first.
  • To create consistent plans[,] there are two basic directions of planning: top-down or bottom-up.
  • To acquire query plans[,] EXPLAIN PLAN statements have to be injected in the statements within the context of the application.

Is the beginning an introductory phrase?

I am German and therefore not familiar with English punctuation yet ...

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It's just a matter of style. You might not bother in a short construction like "To win you must play well", but in longer construction the comma helps people parse what you've written. Just ask yourself if you would pause when reading it aloud. – FumbleFingers Mar 12 '12 at 17:08
Perhaps you should ask this on writers.stackexchange instead. The example sentences have more-serious problems than their commas, but writing advice is off-topic here. – jwpat7 Mar 12 '12 at 18:22
up vote 4 down vote accepted

To (also in order to, having the same meaning as in order that and so that) in each of those sentences is a subordinating conjunction, which is what begins a dependent clause. The comma is not necessary between the two clauses, but (as FumbleFingers says) it is preferred when it improves readability, which is usually when the first clause is rather long.

In your examples, I would prefer the comma.

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Thanks for the answer and the links. – Felix Mar 12 '12 at 17:50
The rule of thumb is that a clause of 5 words or longer should have a comma. – htoip Mar 13 '12 at 2:51

A helpful suggestion: when a native German speaker asks whether a comma is a good idea in an English sentence, the answer is almost always "yes."

English readers generally expect a lot more help from the punctuation than German readers do.

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That is not true. In general, there are less commas in English than in German. – Suzana_K Jan 16 '14 at 21:05
Commas, in point of fact, sometimes, cause, problems. – vy32 Oct 18 '15 at 23:37

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