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  1. NO COMMA AFTER THE ADVERB (USUALLY) AS AN INTRODUCTORY PHRASE? Example from an excerpt taken from an English grammar book: "Usually when adjective phrases modify nouns, they are attributive..." Why isn't there a comma following the adverb usually in the above sentence? Please provide me with examples of related sentences for comparison. I need to know why this is. No comma after "usually" as an introductory phrase? What?! Why?! I feel inclined to begin such a sentence like this: USUALLY + COMMA... Please provide me examples of sentences where the comma is utilized VS. examples where it is not.

  2. Why is there a comma after "sometimes" in the following sentence? "My husband does the cooking, sometimes." This makes absolutely no sense to me, as this excerpt was taken from an English grammar text. Personally, I would never dream of INCLUDING a comma preceding the word sometimes in that sentence.

  3. No comma after "in fact" or "for example?" I've observed numerous sentences where "in fact" and "for example" begin a sentence and there is NO COMMA following that phrase. This makes absolutely no sense to me and seems contradictory when considering the rules of basic punctuation. Thus, I was taught to always include a comma when beginning a sentence with a phrase such as (for example, <---), and or (in fact, <--)!

An excerpt from a grammar book: "In fact we want them to be critical readers, ..." Whys isn't there a comma after the phrase "In fact" Why?!

  1. No comma after a prepositional phrase that is presented as an introduction to a sentence?! This is frustrating! An example of an excerpt from an English grammar book: "On the day after that she was involved with several tasks-- Why isn't there a comma after THAT? On the day after that, <--- why no comma?!

  2. Excerpt: "On the next day she did not appear to be very tired at all--" The word day is a noun, followed by the subjective pronoun "she." Supposedly, we are supposed to separate nouns with a comma. Shouldn't the above sentence be written like, "On the next day, <--- (COMMA), she was involved in...

  3. No comma after THEN as an introductory word?! What?! Excerpt: "Then for three dreadful days she did not appear at all." ------------ Why isn't there a comma placed immediately after the word THEN? Such as: "Then, for three dreadful days?!"

  4. Excerpt: "In making my choices I have concentrated on those who-" Why isn't there is a comma separating "In making my choices" from "I have concentrated on those who..." ?!

  5. "From all this you will gather that I believe....blah, blah, blah-" Why is there no comma immediately following the introductory prepositional phrase "From all this..." ?! Shouldn't there be a comma separating the phrase "from all this" ---> from "you will gather that I believe..." ?! Please grammatically analyze this sentence structure in such a way that I can comprehend the justification for such punctuation.

  6. "In selecting the entries I have kept in mind the great amount of subject knowledge teachers need." ...Again, why isn't there a comma separating the phrase "In selecting the entries" ...from "I have kept in the great..." As in, "In selecting the entries," <--- COMMA, "I have kept in mind the great amount of subject knowledge teachers need."

ALL OF THE EXCERPTS PROVIDED WERE EXTRACTED FROM A CAMBRIDGE ENGLISH GRAMMAR PDF.

Please help me by submitting detailed answers. Similar sentences as comparative examples would greatly assist my understanding, not merely just quotes from English texts concerning punctuation rules. I have amassed many English grammar manuals and have therefore studied the so called comma rules quite thoroughly; yet I am still VERY confused.

No one has ever taken the time to teach me; as I lived an exceedingly unstable life growing up.

The comma rules seem to be exceedingly contradictory. If only someone would invest the concern and time then I could move forward.

PLEASE HELP; AND SPARE ME ANY INSOLENTLY CONDESCENDING REMARKS OR APATHETIC RIDICULES.

Thanks, some guy

closed as too broad by Jason Bassford, MetaEd Dec 21 '18 at 0:27

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    I hope this is not taken as apathetic, but: commas are artificial. Rules governing commas are artificial. You cannot pronounce a comma. The purpose of punctuation is to make our writing as readily understandable as our speech, absent the wonderful envelope of other signals that come around verbal expression (pauses, intonation, cadence...). So long as you strive to make your writing clear, to get across what you want to get across (including not just semantics but other important things; pauses of hesitation, emotions, connotations, colors..), you can free yourself of worrying about “rules”. – Dan Bron Dec 19 '18 at 19:46
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    Welcome, David. As @DanBron observes, comma conventions are usually about clarity. They're also about style. Grammar books attempt to guide the inexperienced in generally helpful directions - in the view of their authors and editors - but they're not sacred scripture. One could answer most of your questions above by saying, "It's a matter of clarity or stylistic choice." In the future, consider posting questions one at a time. Many community members may prefer nibbling at a concise issue to attempting to swallow a whole chapter. – Rob_Ster Dec 19 '18 at 22:56
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    What are you asking? If it's really, "tell me everything there is to know about how and why to use a comma" (or even nine specific questions) that's far too broad. – Jason Bassford Dec 20 '18 at 18:38
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Bryan Garner, Garner's Modern American Usage (2003), says "the comma has nine main uses." Eight of the nine instances that the poster asks about seem to involve the third use that Garner identifies:

Third, the comma separates most introductory matter from from the main clause, often to prevent misunderstanding. The introductory matter may be a word {Moreover,}, a phrase {In the meantime,}, or a subordinate clause {If everything goes as planned,}. Matter that is very short may not need this comma {On Friday we leave for Florida}, but phrases of three or more words usually do—and even the shortest of subordinate clauses always do {That said,}. On the other hand, a comma may prove helpful for clarity even with shorter phrases {For now, we must presume the worst}. It may even be imperative {Outside, the world goes on}.

Note that Garner, despite being generally favorably inclined toward the use of commas at the end of introductory phrases, acknowledges that "Matter that is very short may not need this comma." How do you decide when to include a comma after an introductory phrase and when not to? Garner seems to favor a presumption that "[introductory] phrases of three or more words usually do [need a comma]."

In its section on "Commas with Introductory Words and Phrases," The Chicago Manual of Style, sixteenth edition (2010) adopts a somewhat less comma-friendly position:

6.35 Commas with introductory participial phrases. An introductory participial phrase should be set off by a comma unless the sentence is inverted and the phrase immediately precedes the verb. [Examples omitted.]

6.36 Commas with introductory adverbial phrases. An introductory adverbial phrase is often set off by a comma but need not be unless misreading is likely. Shorter adverbial phrases are less likely to merit a comma than longer ones. [Examples omitted.]

Evidently, the test that Chicago endorses using to decide whether to include a comma at the end of an introductory phrase involves asking whether omitting the punctuation mark is likely to result in a misreading of the sense of the sentence. If the answer is no, the comma is (by Chicago's reasoning) at best optional and at worst superfluous.


What would Garner and Chicago advise in each of the nine instances that the poster puts forward? Here is my best guess in each case, based on my understanding of the guidelines that each authority enunciates and on my own experience as a copy editor:

  1. "Usually when adjective phrases modify nouns, they are attributive..." I can detect no difference in practical meaning between "Usually when adjective phrases modifies nouns, they are attributive..." and "Usually, when adjective phrases modifies nouns, they are attributive..." That being the case, I suspect that both Garner and Chicago would consider the comma after "Usually" optional, with Chicago more likely than Garner to deem it superfluous.

  2. "My husband does the cooking, sometimes." This is the odd example out, since it involves a comma placed before a predicate adverb. Neither Garner nor Chicago addresses this situation in discussing uses of the comma, presumably because neither authority would use one here. The chief exception I can imagine to the general rule against using a comma in this situation would be when the author wants to convey the sense that the end-of-sentence adverb appears as an afterthought or last-minute hedge.

  3. "In fact bar-bar-bar," and "For example bar-bar-bar." Neither Garner nor Chicago addresses these particular introductory phrases, but both of them systematically put commas after comparable introductory phrases in their own writing. For example, from Garner (in the entry for frivolity; frivolousness): "For example, when lawyers engage in frivolous conduct, courts take that as a serious offense and often fine the lawyers large sums." And from Chicago 6.65 (Some common misuses of colons): "In fact, if a colon intervenes in what would otherwise constitute a grammatical sentence—even if the introduction appears on a separate line, as in a list—it is probably being used inappropriately." It follows that neither authority would omit the comma after "In fact" or "For example" under normal circumstances.

  4. "On the day after that she was involved with several tasks--" Both Garner and Chicago would probably regard the comma after "that" as helpful to clarity and would endorse including it. You don't need the comma in order to figure out what the author means, but having it does help direct you to the intended meaning more quickly.

  5. "On the next day she did not appear to be very tired at all--" This sentence seems likely to entice some readers to take the wrong interpretive path. A comma after "day" makes everything clear; omitting it invites readers to suppose that the sense of the sentence may be "On the next day [that] she did not appear"—until they reach "to be" and realize that they've gone the wrong way. I am sure that both Garner and Chicago would insist on the comma after "day."

  6. "Then for three dreadful days she did not appear at all." As was the case in the first example, there is no discernible difference in meaning between the comma-less version "Then for three dreadful days she did not appear at all" and the comma-garnished version "Then, for three dreadful days, she did not appear at all." I doubt that either Garner or Chicago would advocate putting a comma after "Then"; if they did endorse it, I imagine that they would also want to include a second comma after "days" to set the adverbial phrase apart from the subject ("she") that follows on its heels.

  7. "In making my choices I have concentrated on those who-" Is a misreading likely in the absence of a comma after "choices"? I don't think so—and Chicago says that the comma is necessary only if "misreading is likely." So this becomes a judgment call. Of course, even if you concede that misreading is unlikely, you are still free under Chicago's guideline to add the comma at your discretion. Garner, I think, is more likely to consider the comma necessary in this case; after all, the introductory clause in four words long.

  8. "From all this you will gather that I believe....blah, blah, blah-" I suppose that some readers might interpret the first part of the sentence to mean "From all this [that] you will gather"—until bumping into "that I believe" and seeing the error of their ways. That being the case, a comma might help avoid initial misreading, thereby earning the approval of Garner and Chicago.

  9. "In selecting the entries I have kept in mind the great amount of subject knowledge teachers need." Readers must go very far indeed down the path of this sentence before realizing that "In selecting the entries [that] I have kept in mind[,] the great amount of subject knowledge teachers need" can't be correct. This example cries out for a comma after "entries," as both Garner and Chicago would surely agree.


In some of the posted examples, the absence of a comma to demarcate the end of the introductory phrase makes it much easier for readers to go astray. This is a highly undesirable result, and in such cases a comma provides welcome assistance in negotiating the sentence. But the fundamental purpose of the comma is to improve a sentence's clarity and coherence, not to demarcate various identifiable components of the sentence in accordance with scientific principles.

Several of the nine examples that the poster asks about involve situations where a comma wouldn't help comprehension; rather, its presence would be essentially pro forma. Anything short of the flood of commas used by writers during the eighteenth century seems defensible as a matter of authorial taste, but that is a far cry from arguing that such heavy comma use is necessary.

Garner notes that there have been two styles of punctuation in the past century:

The "close" style of punctuation results in fairly heavy uses of commas; the "open" style results in fairly light uses of commas. In the 20th century, the movement was very much toward the open style. The byword was, "When in doubt, leave it out." Indeed, some writers and editors went too far in omitting commas that would aid clarity.

Garner's point is that commas need not be inserted by rote to satisfy some abstract theory of proper comma use. If they aid clarity, they are appropriate and perhaps even necessary. If they harm clarity, they are a nuisance and should be avoided. In any situation that falls between those two extremes, the writer is free to include or omit a comma in accordance with personal preference. That's because punctuation that doesn't help clarify the sense of the sentence is essentially ornamental, and making choices about ornaments is a matter of taste, not logical necessity.

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