Very often, I find commas placed after introductory phrases that actually strongly affect the meaning of the main clause and would not be marked with commas in a complex sentence. For example, commas are very frequently being used in: "In Enlgand, the weather is often bad", "In the summer, we get our GCSE results" or "Every year, we go on a family trip". Sometimes, I even find apparently 'introductory' elements that the main clause's verb is dependent on, such as: "From this, we can see that..." or "In my mock, I got...".

What I have come up with is this:

A phrase that none of the main clause's parts of speech are dependent on but that the overall main clause is should be considered a separate dependent clause.

However, this still doesn't explain the latter bit, and, having attempted a research on my hypothesis, I found nothing.

Can anyone explain?

  • Please explain the difference in meaning between In England, the weather is bad and In England the weather is bad.
    – deadrat
    Apr 28, 2016 at 21:28
  • "In England, the weather is bad" infers that the "In England" bit is independent of, "the weather is bad" and so can be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence. Essentially, what this is trying to say, according to general rules, is that "the weather" is generally bad, with England being an example. On the other hand, "in England the weather is bad" infers that in England specifically the weather is bad. However, most people use the former when they mean the latter, and I want to understand why. @deadrat
    – Max
    Apr 28, 2016 at 22:19
  • 1
    Perhaps you could find a cite to these general rules, because even assuming that you mean implies when you write "infers", I don't believe the claim. Both sentences mean that the weather is bad in England. If you remove In England, the sentence will be understood to mean that the weather is bad in the speaker's location. Are you thinking of restrictive and non-restrictive relative clauses? There's a difference between This is the bad weather that England is famous for and This is bad weather, which England is famous for. But that's different.
    – deadrat
    Apr 28, 2016 at 23:35
  • The comma's most important function is to aid parsing, so it is most important on a long sentence-initial adjunct or if there is otherwise the possibility of garden-pathing: consider that In England France is viewed as an ally. is harder to process without the comma, as is In certain municipalities bordering the new highway land prices are increasing.
    – user31341
    Jun 29, 2016 at 2:39
  • @deadrat In fact, I found the correct answer, which was actually very easy to find, and my hypothesis is right. These 'separate clauses' are called 'prepositional phrases'. Such should be set off with a pair of commas if placed before the main clause - unless the prepositional phrase modifies the verb (e.g. "There you go" or, as I suppose, the abovementioned "From this we can see"). PS I did mean "imply" - that was a typo
    – Max
    Jul 2, 2016 at 19:00

1 Answer 1


You are seeing a nuance that may not be intended. Those commas delineate adverbial phrases. When those phrases include a temporal or locative referent (like '[on] Monday' or 'in England'), they can be assumed to be adverbial, so the comma can be elided. This elision is common in complex sentences where other commas delineate other adverbial (subordinate) phrases.

  • So, all adverbial introductory phrases that are independent of the subject (i.e. the one in the main clause) verb must be delineated, though in complex sentences, such as this one, one of the commas can be elided (which means it can be considered a clause) - which basically supports my hypothesis. However, what about 'adverbial phrases' that are essentially a complex adverb and are directly describing the subject verb?
    – Max
    Apr 30, 2016 at 3:59
  • E.g. the above-mentioned, "from this, we can see" or "by this, I mean"; I know that, "from this" and, "by this" are adverbs from the fact that no adverbs could replace them without changing the general meaning of the sentence: even if there were such adverbs that were similar to them in meaning, they would either way be subordinate clauses (removing them wouldn't change what their sentence would want to say - "Blahblahblahly, I can see that" and "I can see that" - while, "from this" would - "From this, I can see many things" and "I can see many things")
    – Max
    Apr 30, 2016 at 4:02
  • No; I am saying that adverbials are about the verb (the whole event, not just the subject), and they can always be separated by commas (to show that they apply to the verb); but the comma[s] are optional if it obvious that they apply to the verb. "Today, he ate, quickly." = "Today he ate quickly."
    – AmI
    May 2, 2016 at 21:06
  • That seems odd... . "I was given a difficult task, and I executed it, very quickly". Doesn't sound right. I can't find anything about separating adverbs from the verbs, either. Can you give me some resources of where you found that from?
    – Max
    May 3, 2016 at 19:12
  • That is a complex sentence, so the comma seems to mean that the giving was quick, rather than the executing. A comma is like an open or close parenthesis; it indicates nesting. Speech does this with pauses, so 'commas' at the sentence boundaries disappear. Recursive nesting is difficult to do with commas. You might want to see thepuntuationguide.com under 'when comma rules conflict'.
    – AmI
    May 4, 2016 at 20:37

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