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What is the rule regarding the use of a comma when the word "during" appears at the beginning of a sentence?

  • During church the child whimpered incessantly.
  • During church, the child whimpered incessantly.
  • During the long arctic winter the freezing cold and lack of sunlight deepens the depressive sense of isolation.
  • During the long arctic winter, the freezing cold and lack of sunlight deepens the depressive sense of isolation.
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closed as general reference by Kris, Andrew Leach, Robusto, tchrist, Daniel Dec 10 '12 at 20:56

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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1 Answer

This is a question about writing mechanics and punctuation. The traditional rule is that introductory adverbial clauses like During church and During the long arctic winter should always be set off by a comma. Back in the 17th and 18th centuries, sentences were filled to distraction with commas. In the 20th century, however, the "rule" was relaxed and changed to something on the order of If omitting the comma after a short introductory adverbial clause doesn't cause a problem for the reader, omit the comma. "Short" meant 3 words or 5 words (maximum), depending upon the style manual.

In the 21st century, writers of all stripes have become comma-ists ("racist against commas" to use the trendy fuzzy jargon of the 1980s) and don't like to use commas even when they're necessary.

My assessment is that neither of your sentences requires a comma because neither sentence without the comma leads the reader down a garden path to misunderstanding or forces the reader to reread the sentence to be able to understand it. The only reason to include the comma is pedantic adherence to an outmoded rule (which is my problem: I don't hate commas) or to tell the reader to pause slightly. The comma will affect the rhythm and, therefore, the flow of the sentence when read silently and aloud.

Whether a comma should appear has nothing to do with whether the word "during" appears at the beginning of a sentence.

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@MετάEd: It's a good question. Please don't delete it. Close your eyes & pretend it's Kellie Pickler. –  user21497 Dec 9 '12 at 23:44
    
@BillFranke I haven't voted to close. It's not a bad question and I like your answer. I note that four people have voted to close "General Reference" and that it's a very basic punctuation rule: are you sure it's not a dupe or general reference? And who's Kellie Pickler? –  MετάEd Dec 10 '12 at 16:37
    
@MετάEd: Kellie Pickler seems to be a really hot babe on American Idol. She's got three albums out and looks great on the cover of the December 11 Washington post online "Year in Review" (bottom of the page). Problem with GR Qs is that EFL students have trouble finding answers, and even if Nortonn S is a troll, it's a constantly reappearing Q. It might be a dupe, but I doubt that it has a complete answer. I haven't checked. Also, the answers ought to be interesting enough to make EFL students want to read and remember them. Grammar-page answers usually aren't. –  user21497 Dec 10 '12 at 16:47
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