Instead, today I’m going to be talking about how to use commas when you start a sentence with a subordinate clause.
Calm down, take a deep breath. Ready? Let’s consider it from the beginning. Look at the following sentence:
When you’re in town, drop me a line.
The most important thing I’m saying there is "drop me a line". So that’s the main clause.
The "when you’re in town" bit qualifies the main clause and is called a subordinate clause. So we're agreed that the above sentence makes sense, yes?
Now tell me if the following sentence is understandable:
When you’re in town drop me a line.
It does, doesn’t it? No chance of any misunderstanding, is there? In other words, it’s not always necessary to use a comma if you start a sentence with a subordinate clause.
What about when you start a sentence with a subordinate clause which ends in a verb?
Ah, that’s different. That can lead to misunderstanding. Have a look at the following:
After she finished writing, the website was updated.
That makes perfect sense. The main clause is "the website was updated" and the subordinate clause is "After she finished writing". No confusion there.
What about this, then?
After she finished writing the website was updated.
A bit tricky, isn’t it? It requires you to read the sentence back to yourself again, because you start off with the words "After she finished writing the website". It makes you jump to the conclusion that she wrote the entire website, and then hauls you back with some extra information that changes the meaning.
So this is what you should take from today’s blog:
- You don’t need a comma to separate a subordinate clause from a main clause, but having one is okay, too.
- You do need a comma when your subordinate clause ends with a verb.