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How can you tell if an introductory comma is used correctly? Here is an example.

Outside, the rain was coming down hard.

I do not know how to tell whether it's correct or not; is there a way to tell a difference?

marked as duplicate by tchrist, Janus Bahs Jacquet, andy256, A E, FumbleFingers Jan 12 '15 at 14:53

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  • Sometimes, it's hard to give a hard-and-fast rule, one way or the other. (Remember that the comma is to represent a pause in the spoken words, and the above sentence can be validly spoken with or without the pause, with subtly different meanings.) – Hot Licks Jan 9 '15 at 21:13
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    @Hot Licks I'd say that the comma is needed in this example. And what are your 'subtly different meanings'? – Edwin Ashworth Jan 9 '15 at 23:00
  • @EdwinAshworth - Without the comma it's a weather report. With the comma it's contrasting what's going on elsewhere with the weather outside. – Hot Licks Jan 9 '15 at 23:12
  • I have yet to experience rain that comes down hard inside. – Erik Kowal Jan 10 '15 at 3:47
  • @Hotlicks: I suggest you consolidate your comments into an Answer. – Brian Hitchcock Jan 10 '15 at 5:55
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I would leave the comma out. Commas after introductory items tend to separate those items from the rest of the sentence. True, we sometimes might pause after "outside," but "outside" is an integral part of the sentence: "The rain was coming down hard outside." Certain adverbs have a certain freedom of movement; some can go to the beginning of the sentence. This is one such case.

A rule you might want to remember is to separate an introductory adverbial clause from the rest of a sentence with a comma: "When I looked outside, I saw the rain coming down hard." A clause contains a subject and a verb (and sometimes the subject can be 'understood'). Outside is not a clause, so there's no need for a comma. However, if the adverbial (a group of words that functions like an adverb) is quite long, a comma might help the reader figure out what you're trying to say. "In the streets of the Paris suburb after the attack on the newspaper *Charlie Hebbdo" in January 2015 {whew! better add a comma), one saw signs reading "Je suis Charlie" and then others reading "Je suis Ahmed."

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Sometimes, it's hard to give a hard-and-fast rule, one way or the other. (Remember that the comma is to represent a pause in the spoken words, and the above sentence can be validly spoken with or without the pause, with subtly different meanings.)

Without the pause (or comma) it's merely a weather report. With the pause it's contrasting what's going on elsewhere with the weather outside. It's a matter of emphasis. The pause draws your attention to the word "outside", and whatever that is being contrasted with (presumably some goings-on inside). Either is correct, depending on the intent of the speaker/writer.

(Though neither choice, by itself, would clarify Grouch Marx's statement that "Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend.")

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