I have started my book with the words "The day I was born, Granny died." On reading all the comma rules this doesn't seem quite right. Should the comma be replaced by a semicolon? I wanted the first lines to be impactful, but perhaps I should just replace the line with something like "The day I was born is the day Granny died."? It's not as succinct as I would like, but grammatically correct.

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    Your original sentence is correct. Definitely do not replace the comma with a semicolon, as a semicolon connects two independent clauses and "[t]he day I was born" is not an independent clause. Jul 28, 2015 at 18:38
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    Also, you can check the validity of "[t]he day I was born, Granny died" by inverting the clauses: "Granny died the day I was born." This makes sense, so your original does too. Jul 28, 2015 at 18:39
  • Thank you - that clarifies - I was studying the Sussex Univ rules: sussex.ac.uk/informatics/punctuation/comma My sentence didn't seem to fall into any of the comma rules, and hence the confusion.
    – Nish D
    Jul 28, 2015 at 19:03
  • Look here. If you do a CTRL-F for comma, you will find that commas are used "to separate subordinate clauses from their main clauses, e.g. Although Wittgenstein came to disapprove of Russell's approach to philosophy, in his early phase he was strongly influenced by Russell's work" (bold emphasis mine). Review this Wikipedia entry for more information. Jul 28, 2015 at 19:14
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    @JakeRegier it's an adverbial noun phrase. It has no predicate, as a clause must. The clause I was born modifies the day, but the fact that the phrase contains a clause doesn't make it a clause.
    – phoog
    Jul 29, 2015 at 16:09

2 Answers 2


Your punctuation of the sentence works well. In the University of Sussex Guide to Punctuation, for example, the type of comma you used is called the bracketing comma. That type of comma setting off an introductory adverbial phrase is usual. In your example, however, the comma could be omitted without changing the meaning of the sentence, and so the use is a stylistic choice.


Your punctuation (with a comma after born) is faultless. Your wording "The day I was born" is prefatory to the main subject and verb of the sentence ("Granny died"). The comma marks the end of the introductory phrase, and it is entirely appropriate. Neither a semicolon nor an em-dash would work well here—the semicolon because it would negate the subordinate relationship of the introductory phrase to the main part of the sentence, and the em-dash because it would break the continuity between the intro phrase and the main phrase.

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