Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Top 20 Grammar Errors: No Comma After Introductory Element

No Comma After Introductory Element

Yesterday began the introduction to the Top 20 Grammar Errors. You can always refer back to complete list of the Top 20 for a quick reference, but today we’ll take a look at error number one: No comma after introductory element.

The tendency for English authors is to litter our manuscripts with commas. “Put a comma in whenever you take a breath.” In fact, trolling the Internet, I found this sentence:

Lots of writers use commas, to tell readers where to pause, and take a breath, as if the readers can’t figure it out, on their own.

With all of this extra common usage in American writing, why do we miss that comma after the introductory clause? I don’t know the answer to this question, but I’d like to find out.

The Introductory Element

The first question you have to ask yourself is: “What the heck is an introductory element?” In the old days, we called the introductory element an introductory clause.

The introductory element is a dependent clause. That is, the introductory element doesn’t make a complete sentence and is dependent upon the rest of the sentence. Take a look at this diagrammed sentence:


Walking the dog is the introductory element. The rest of the sentence is an independent clause, and we know this because every independent clause contains at least a subject and a verb. If we remove the introductory element, we still have a complete sentence:

I notice someone stole two large mums.

However, if we remove the independent clause, we are left with something very different:

Walking the dog.

That’s what you call a fragment, which is number 12 on the list of top 20 grammar errors, so we’ll get to that later.  And, you can play with this clause too. Move it around. Make the sentence a bit sexier:

I notice, walking the dog, someone stole two large mums.

Notice the meaning of the sentence has not changed. Indeed, the sentence completely alone without the introductory element still pretty much means the same thing. The introductory clause seems to do nothing more than flavor or shade the meaning of the sentence. Look at this sentence found on Grammarly:

Because the rain was torrential, the day’s Little League games were postponed.

If you remove the introductory element (can you spot it?), you are still left with a complete idea. Though you don’t know why the games were postponed because the introductory element flavored or shaded the meaning.

The Rule

So, the rule is whenever you have an introductory element , you place a comma right afterward.

How do you spot an introductory clause to know if you need a comma or not? Normally, they begin with an adverb or a conjunction like although, if, when, or because. They can also begin with ing verbs. And if you read out-loud to yourself, it’s where you’d naturally want to take a breath before continuing on with the rest of the sentence.


Steve Bargdill is the author of The Wasteland Series available on Amazon. He’s written for several newspapers and is currently a first year English graduate student at the University of Wyoming. You can read his short stories for free on Wattpad.

-image by fundsforfurryfriends


1 comment:

  1. I had gotten so used to adding in that comma without really remembering why! Thanks Steve. Very informative.