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After much searching, I am still finding (potentially) conflicting information regarding commas before subordinate conjunctions when they come at the end of the sentence.

Specifically, I have read that a comma before while indicates 'whereas.' No comma indicates time.

However, commas are also used before subordinate conjunctions when the subordinate clause is non-essential to the meaning of the sentence.

Therefore, I am confused whether to use a comma before while in the following sentence. Is there a rule you can refer me to?

"Stick to your guns, Lola," he replied happily, while pinching both of my cheeks.

Based on the above information, there should be no comma since the two actions are happening at the same time. However, the information also seems non-essential to the meaning of the sentence, which means that it would require a comma. Very confusing!

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    Please refer to the middle two paragraphs of the answer I have already provided to your earlier question here. In any event, you've already answered your own question: "commas are also used before subordinate conjunctions when the subordinate clause is non-essential to the meaning of the sentence". I cannot understand why you say "Based on the above information, there should be no comma since the two actions are happening at the same time." - Nowhere is that stated or implied in your earlier comments - and it's nonsense! – TrevorD Jun 16 '13 at 23:08
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    For questions like these, it helps to provide links to where you are finding this potentially conflicting advice. Perhaps you've misinterpreted something you've read. Perhaps one of the authors is not a credible source. Perhaps one of the sources includes an exception that you haven't noticed. Without any further pointers other than "After much searching, I am still finding (potentially) conflicting information..." we're all at the point where essentially we need to try to find conflicting information of our own if we're to resolve your conundrum. – J.R. Jun 16 '13 at 23:53
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    The question seems to be based on false preconceptions, without which I think it leads nowhere relevant to ELU. I've voted to close as Too Localised, but it might be salvageable for English Language Learners – FumbleFingers Jun 17 '13 at 0:55
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    It's a good question, y'all. – jlovegren Jun 17 '13 at 1:07
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    Was that while required there? Is that word that is causing the confusion? I think the while is superfluous in the context. – Kris Jun 17 '13 at 5:54
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Personally and for the sake of clarity, I would structure your sentence as shown below.

"Stick to your guns, Lola," he replied, happily, while pinching both of my cheeks.

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    Hi, and welcome to EL&U, ABW. We like answers to be fact based, not solely opinion based, and as such, love to see links to sources which support your answer. – anongoodnurse Dec 30 '13 at 0:12
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Perhaps the poster perceives the dependent clause in the example sentence to be non-essential. That is, he or she perceives the pinching of the cheeks as not really modifying or limiting the meaning of the first clause. If this is true, then the poster would be inclined to place a comma before the conjunction. However, the poster would also be inclined to leave it out based on the rule that "when 'while' indicates time and precedes a dependent clause, no comma should precede it. Therein may lie the confusion.

Can we assume that all dependent clauses when following the independent clause and introduced by the conjunction "while" are de facto restrictive, meaning no comma is necessary?

Or can we assume that all dependent clauses when following the independent clause and introduced by the conjunction "while" do not take a comma whether the dependent clause is restrictive or not?

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As far as I know, "at the same time/although" and "whereas/in contrast" are two different entries for the conj. 'while.' The comma is necessary in those two cases.

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This is a great question because you have two seemingly independent rules that could potentially conflict with one another.

I'm not a language expert, but I've been doing a lot of searching around regarding these rules because I had the same concerns as you.

Based on what I found, these rules are basically one in the same.

  1. When indicating time, don't use a comma. When indicating time, your subordinate clause will always be essential to the main clause.
  2. When indicating contrast, use a comma. When indicating contrast, your subordinate clause will always be non-essential to the main clause.

This seems to agree with the guidelines set out by the Purdue OWL Style Guide:

don't put a comma after the main clause when a dependent (subordinate) clause follows it (except for cases of extreme contrast)


So for your sentence, you would want:

"Stick to your guns, Lola," he replied happily while pinching both of my cheeks.

  • It's always risky posting a non-expert answer based on personal research. Your first "rule" is wrong, as evidenced by the OP's sentence where while indicates time in a non-essential subordinate clause. Similarly your style guide is simply advising on style, not grammar. As other comments have noted, the question itself is based on false preconceptions. There is no problem with the comma after "happily" - it's a matter of style, and is perfectly acceptable. – Chappo Dec 8 '18 at 3:59
  • @Chappo I think in the example the subordinate clause is essential. If the subordinate clause is taken out, the meaning changes quite a bit. And I agree, style is not grammar. I think the sentence is grammatically correct in either case. However, style can help with sentence clarity. Thus, I think style may be relevant here. – johnnyodonnell Dec 8 '18 at 16:55

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