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Commas and Sentence Parts: Writing Skills Success Study Guide

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Updated on Aug 25, 2011

Practice exercises for this concept can be found at Commas and Sentence Parts: Writing Skills Success Practice Exercises.

The writer who neglects punctuation, or mispunctuates, is liable to be misunderstood. . . . For the want of merely a comma, it often occurs that an axiom appears a paradox, or that a sarcasm is converted into a sermonoid.

—Edgar Allan Poe, American poet (1809–1849)

Lesson Summary

Commas, one form of internal punctuation, play an important role in many sentences. In this lesson, learn how they highlight specific parts of a sentence in order to make them cohesive with the rest of the sentence.

During this lesson, you will learn how to use commas in relationship to sentence parts. Before you begin this lesson, see how much you already know about commas and sentence parts. Insert commas where you think they should be in the Problem version of the sentences that appear on the next page. Check your answers against the corrected version of the sentences in the Solution section that follows.

Commas and Sentence Parts

Commas Following Introductory Words, Phrases, and Clauses

Use a comma to set off introductory words, phrases, and clauses from the main part of a sentence. The comma keeps a reader from accidentally attaching the introductory portion to the main part of the sentence and having to go back and reread the sentence. In other words, commas following introductory elements will save the reader time and reduce the chances of misinterpreting what you write. Examine the following examples to see how introductory words, phrases, and clauses are set off with commas.

    Words:

      Disappointed, we left the movie before it ended. Annoyed, the manager stomped back into the storeroom.
      Amazed, Captain Holland dismissed the rest of the troops.

    Phrases:

      Expecting the worst, we liquidated most of our inventory.

      Badly injured in the accident, the president was gone for two months.
      Reluctant to make matters any worse, the doctor called in a specialist.

    Clauses:

      If we plan carefully for the grand opening, we can increase sales.
      While we were eating lunch, an important fax came.
      Because we left before the meeting ended, we were not eligible to win a door prize.

Subordinate or dependent clauses are what you see in the last set of previous examples. The first part of each sentence, the subordinate or dependent clause, is followed by a comma. The two parts of each of these sentences could very easily be reversed and the sentence would still make sense. However, if you reverse the sentence parts, making the independent clause the first clause in the sentence, you would NOT need a comma.

    Subordinate clauses after the independent clause:

      We can increase sales if we plan carefully for the grand opening.
      An important fax came while we were eating lunch.
      We were not eligible to win a door prize because we left before the meeting ended.

Commas help a reader know which words belong together. Add commas to the following sentences to help make their meaning clear.

  1. Inside the house was clean and tastefully decorated.
  2. After running the greyhounds settled back into their boxes.
  3. Alone at night time seems endless.
  4. As he watched the game slowly came to an end.

You should have marked the sentences like this:

  1. Inside, the house was clean and tastefully decorated.
  2. After running, the greyhounds settled back into their boxes.
  3. Alone at night, time seems endless.
  4. As he watched, the game slowly came to an end.
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