I have a couple of sentences from a Macmillan coursebook by Malcolm Mann and Steve Taylore-Knowles 2007 going like this:

  • Once a week, Helen watches a film at the cinema.
  • In the evening, Helen usually meets her friends for coffee.

Which makes me think that we should always use a comma if the adverbial modifier of time is used in its front position compared to its position at the end of the sentence.

Am I right in thinking this way?

  • Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away ... but Yesterday I went to the store. – bib Sep 19 '14 at 10:35
  • I can't infer a rule here – Yukatan Sep 19 '14 at 10:39
  • The rule is that you can use either, but commas are preferred. – Lewis Heslop Sep 19 '14 at 10:53

Yes. The use of a comma is preferred here. Here is a set of examples of how adverbial clauses may fit into a sentence and here are some time adverbial specific examples.

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    any references to reliable sources? – Yukatan Sep 19 '14 at 10:38
  • Yes, there are many. It is not always necessary, but it is preferred. – Lewis Heslop Sep 19 '14 at 10:41
  • could you be so kind as to refer me to one of them at least? – Yukatan Sep 19 '14 at 10:42
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    they say in the link that an adverbial clause should contain a subject and a verb, in the above mentioned cases there is none – Yukatan Sep 19 '14 at 11:14
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    @LewisHeslop, Yukatan. I reckon Yukatan's completely right here. Tomorrow is not a clause in anyone's grammar. – Araucaria - Not here any more. Sep 19 '14 at 21:49

In general, introductory adjectival and adverbial phrases (and clauses) are separated by a comma.

Commas serve a few primary purposes: to clarify phrase and sentences structure, to indicate elements in a series, and to reflect natural speech patterns. When separating introductory phrases or clauses, they serve to clarify structure and reflect flow.

When I was a lad, I served a term as office boy to an Attorney's firm.

The comma suggests a pause, as would naturally occur in the oral rendition. It also helps clarify that it is incidental to the main clause, I served a term. But this is a convention. In most printed versions of Gilbert & Sullivan's ditty, the comma is omitted.

When the introductory adjective or adverb is a singly word, the use of a comma depends on the flow more than logic.

Yesterday I went to the store.

A comma is not needed because, for most speakers, the sentence would flow without a pause.

Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away

The comma reflects a pause in the sentence. Is it necessary grammatically? No. But if you listen to the recording, you can hear the comma.

Once there was a silly old ram


Once upon a time, there was a silly old ram.

  • 1
    Absolutely. Cadence (in speech) is what counts, not grammar as such. If there's no spoken pause, you probably don't want a comma. – FumbleFingers Sep 19 '14 at 13:20

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