Punctuating Sentences with Disguised Subordinate Clauses
Usually, a subordinate clause is obvious, as in the case of this one you’re reading right now. Intuitively, you know to separate it from the main clause (in the previous sentence, the first six words) with a comma. But sometimes, as in each of the following sentences, the first word in the subordinate clause may deceive the writer’s eye. Discussion and revision for each example provides clarity.
1. You may submit a file in a different format provided that the content is the same as in the attached template.
Writers may be confused into thinking that in this sentence, provided is a verb, but it is a conjunction (meaning “on the condition”) serving as a bridge between the main clause and the subordinate clause, and it must be preceded by a comma: “You may submit a file in a different format, provided that the content is the same as in the attached template.” Alternatively, the two clauses can be reversed, although in this version, the context is not as clear: “Provided that the content is the same as in the attached template, you may submit a file in a different format.”
2. Insurance companies and other financial services are likely to follow suit given similar pressures in their markets from new entrants.
Just as in the previous example, a conjunction—in this case, given—is easily confused for a verb. Here, as above, it links a main clause with a subordinate clause, and a comma should precede it: “Insurance companies and other financial services are likely to follow suit, given similar pressures in their markets from new entrants.” However, in this case, the sentence flows better if the subordinate clause is inserted into the middle of the sentence as a parenthetical: “Insurance companies and other financial services, given similar pressures in their markets from new entrants, are likely to follow suit.”
3. The coach pursued a star player only to have a deal fall just short.
Here, the bridging word (only, here meaning “with the result that”) is an adverb rather than a conjunction, but the function is similar, and the need for a preceding comma is sustained: “The coach pursued a star player, only to have a deal fall just short.”
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