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I just wrote an English exam and I'm not sure if these two sentences which I've written are correct. If they're not, please tell me and if they are please back that up with a credible source.

  1. Not until three years after the murder, was the murderer found.

Here I'm not sure about the comma. Is it (1) correct, (2) false or (3) optional?

  1. You'd be amazed at how many arguments could be avoided by taking a simple step.

Is "taking" here used correctly? My teacher wanted to see "such" instead of "taking" but I think this is also correct.

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  • What research have you done to answer this question? Oct 1, 2023 at 12:14
  • @PeterJennings I have googled commas and inversions but haven't found anything. Most answers are without a comma but now my question is if it's optional. Oct 1, 2023 at 12:30
  • Please only ask one question at a time. If one person posts a perfect answer to Q1, and another posts the best answer to Q2, which one gets the check mark?
    – Barmar
    Oct 1, 2023 at 16:44
  • 1) does not really need a comma at all. "was the murderer found" should not just dangle there.
    – Lambie
    Oct 31, 2023 at 23:15

2 Answers 2

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In your first example, you have an adverbial phrase in an inverted sentence (which has been inverted because the adverbial is negative); there should not be a comma:

Not until three years after the murder was the murderer found.

Here’s what The Chicago Manual of Style has to say:

6.31: Commas with adverbial phrases
. . .
A comma should not be used to set off an adverbial phrase that introduces an inverted sentence.

Before the footlights stood one of the most notorious rakes of the twenty-first century.

Source: The Chicago Manual of Style (login required)

If you prefer a more linguistic take on it, you can root around in “Negative Inversion in Standard English”:

Another property that [negative inversion] (9) and wh-questions (10) have in common is that they, unlike Topicalization (11), do not tolerate an intonational phrase break (or comma intonation, indicated by the symbol “,”) between the fronted constituent and the rest of the sentence . . .
See p. 127 in the PDF accessible from the link above.

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  • If someone contrived a sentence with really hefty introductory adverbial phrase and inverted clause, I might sling a comma in if I a rephrase wasn't an option. Nov 1, 2023 at 11:58
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You should really have asked two separate questions, but...

...by taking a simple step informs us that there is a simple step that we could take.

...by such a simple step implies that the step has already been named, but emphasises how simple it is.

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  • Thanks and for the first question? Oct 1, 2023 at 13:49
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    I wouldn't use a comma there myself, but comma use is often as much a matter of style as grammar. Oct 1, 2023 at 13:55
  • Is there a source that this might be correct? Oct 1, 2023 at 14:41
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    @bochner.martinelli This is almost certainly an optional comma. It's not needed to avoided any ambiguity, but some speakers might take a breath there and the comma represents that. You're not likely to find this in any written guidelines.
    – Barmar
    Oct 1, 2023 at 16:47

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