Punctuation Quiz #22: Introductory Phrases

By Mark Nichol

An introductory adverbial phrase is often set off by a comma, but the comma can be omitted if no misreading will result. Short adverbial phrases do not always need a comma. The following sentences are written without punctuation. Insert a comma if you think one is needed.

1. After hearing the news the woman fainted.

2. After 1956 such complaints about poor fidelity became far less common.

3. Before going inside the cowboy fed his horse.

4. To Dorothea Brooke scholarly Mr. Causabon seemed the perfect husband for her.

5. From the castle tower flew the royal flag of France.

Answers and Explanations

1.
Original: After hearing the news the woman fainted.
Correct : After hearing the news, the woman fainted.

Comma needed for clarity.

2.
Original: After 1956 such complaints about poor fidelity became far less common.
Correct : After 1956 such complaints about poor fidelity became far less common.

Introductory phrase short enough not to need a comma.

3.
Original: Before going inside the cowboy fed his horse.
Correct : Before going inside, the cowboy fed his horse.

Comma needed for clarity.

4.
Original: To Dorothea Brooke scholarly Mr. Causabon seemed the perfect husband for her.
Correct : To Dorothea Brooke, scholarly Mr. Causabon seemed the perfect husband for her.

Comma needed for clarity.

5.
Original: From the castle tower flew the royal flag of France.
Correct : From the castle tower flew the royal flag of France.

When the introductory phrase stands directly before the verb it modifies, no comma is needed.

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6 Responses to “Punctuation Quiz #22: Introductory Phrases”

  • Precise Edit

    I agree with TheBluebird.

    Can number two be understood without the comma? Yes. Will it require extra work, perhaps a second read through, to understand it? Possibly.

    “Short enough” is subjective. A better approach is to be consistent and to include the comma. Leaving out the comma is a style choice, but clarity, not style, is the prime criterion for for good writing.

  • Jan Sands

    I read #2 the same way TheBluebird11 did. After the third reading I figured out that 1956 was a year. A comma would have made it clear on the first reading.

  • TheBluebird11

    …elity. sorry, phone went rogue and sent comment before I was finished typing.

  • TheBluebird11

    Totally disagree about #2. When I first read it, I thought there were 1956 complaints about poor fidelity and was expecting a comma after fid

  • Sara

    You really wouldn’t put a comma in #2? It seems helpful to have one, to make it clearer that “1956” is a year and not an amount of complaints.

    After 1956 such complaints about poor fidelity became far less common.

  • roger

    I have a comment about Q22 #2:

    2.
    Original: After 1956 such complaints about poor fidelity became far less common.
    Correct : After 1956 such complaints about poor fidelity became far less common.
    Introductory phrase short enough not to need a comma.

    Were there 1956 similar complaints? Was infidelity more frequent in 1957, but not complained about?

    Regards
    Roger

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