Use of Commas with Subordinate Clauses

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Dave K

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I fear I have been incorrectly teaching my students to use commas whenever joining together two independent clauses with a comma. I have now seen several different language usage sites on the internet that clarify the distinction between subordinating and coordinating conjunctions. Several of these emphasize that commas are always necessary when a subordinate clause begins a sentence. However, the sites seem to differ with respect to the necessity of commas when subordinate clauses (e.g., beginning with "because" or "although") follow an independent clause. Here are a few examples:

1) I completed my essay, although I have not submitted it.

2) This is the most difficult rule in punctuation because it is sometimes unclear what is "added" or "parenthetical" and what is essential to the meaning of a sentence.

3) The Okies had to leave their farms in the midwest because the drought conditions had ruined their farms.

The Guide to Grammar and Writing indicates that, in most cases, "because" is not preceded by a comma. The rationale is that, in most cases, a "because clause" is essential to the meaning of the sentence, and it will not be set off with a comma. I have also seen the argument that dependent clauses are normally restrictive, hence taking no comma. Can you clarify if the rules are truly this simple (i.e., "never use a comma before "because" or "although") or if there is more complexity to this issue. Thank you!
 

Barb_D

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Hi Dave,
I'm not a teacher, but I'm a business writer. I wanted to throw one more wrinkle in: the comma before the "because" if the first part is in the negative.

I didn't hire him because he was so good looking...
Compare: I didn't hire him, because he was so good looking that I was afraid my colleagues would just stare at him all day and not get any work done. With the comma, in fact, I didn't hire him, and here's why.

And: I didn't hire him because he was so good looking but because he really knows his stuff. Without the comma, in fact, I did hire him, but not for the reason stated before the because.

I just wanted to throw this monkey wrench in. I'll let greater minds with more pedagogy skills handle the case in the positive.
 

david.kosson

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I am a teacher but not an English teacher. Because I never received any replies to my original post, I am now asking whether any of the in-house language experts would be willing to offer their opinions about this issue concerning the cases in which commas are used with subordinate clauses or subordinating conjunctions.
 

colloquium

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May 28, 2008
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I am a teacher but not an English teacher. Because I never received any replies to my original post, I am now asking whether any of the in-house language experts would be willing to offer their opinions about this issue concerning the cases in which commas are used with subordinate clauses or subordinating conjunctions.

A site I often return to for such punctuation advice states:

However, don't put a comma after the main clause when a dependent (subordinate) clause follows it (except for cases of extreme contrast).
1. She was late for class, because her alarm clock was broken.

(incorrect)

2. The cat scratched at the door, while I was eating.


(incorrect)


3. She was still quite upset, although she had won the Oscar.

(correct: extreme contrast)


http://owl.english.purdue.edu/handouts/grammar/g_comma.html





 

Barb_D

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I am a teacher but not an English teacher. Because I never received any replies to my original post

Funny. I could have sworn my post was visible to others and not just to me. I replied. If my answer didn't suit your needs, I'm sorry, but you did get a reply!
 
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