Using a Comma after a Fronted Adverbial Clause or Phrase

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Using a Comma after a Fronted Adverbial Phrase or Clause

When words that "set the scene" for the main part of the sentence appear at the front of the sentence, it is usual to follow them with a comma. For example:
  • At 4 o'clock, I'll jump in the river.
  • Under the water, you can see the swans' legs spinning like crazy.
  • With utmost caution, he removed the lid.
  • As I know the ground, I'll go first.
Often, as in these four examples, the fronted introduction will "set the scene" by telling us when, where, how, or why the action occurs, making the fronted introduction an adverbial phrase or an adverbial clause. As they're positioned at the front of the sentence, they're called "fronted adverbial phrases" or "fronted adverbial clauses" (or, jointly, "fronted adverbials").

With such a fronted adverbial, it is standard practice to follow it with a comma to mark when the adverbial ends and the next clause (typically the main clause) starts.

using a comma after a fronted adverbial

Using a Comma after a Fronted Adjective Phrase or Clause

Not every phrase or clause that appears at the front of a sentence is an adverbial one. Some function as adjectives. However, they are followed by commas too. For example:
  • Imbued with common sense, Mark is a great choice for the role.
  • (In this example, the shaded text is an adjective phrase. More specifically, it's a participle phrase describing "Mark," the subject of the sentence.)
  • Having read your concerns, Prof. Jones has agreed to meet with you.
  • (This is another example of a participle phrase describing the subject of the sentence.)
  • Red and yellow with pink elephants, her umbrella was easy to spot in the crowd.
  • (This is a fronted adjective phrase.)
Read more about participle phrases.

You Can Drop the Comma after a One-word "Introduction"

When a fronted adverbial is just one word (e.g., "Yesterday," "Here," "Now"), it is a common practice to drop the comma. For example:
  • The day before yesterday, I caught another 10lb bass.
  • (A comma is expected after an introductory adverbial phrase.)
  • Yesterday I caught another 10lb bass.
  • (A comma after "Yesterday" would look a bit unwieldy, so it's okay to omit it.)

Don't Use a Comma for an Adverbial at the Back of a Sentence

When your adverbial is at the back, the tendency is to omit the comma. Look at these two examples:
  • A band played in the park for 8 hours on Tuesday 4th July.
  • (The adverbial phrase "on Tuesday 4th July" sets a time, but it is not an introduction. It is at the back end of the sentence. Therefore, no comma is required.)
  • On Tuesday 4th July, a band played in the park for 8 hours.
  • (Here, the adverbial phrase is fronted, so a comma is appropriate.)
Here is a real-life example:
  • There is no peace where there are too many soldiers. There is no justice where there are too many lawyers.
When an adverbial is at the back, it is called a "post-positioned adverbial." More often than not, a post-positioned adverbial is not preceded with a comma.

This "rule" works well with most adverbials. However, it is not a strict rule. It is best described as guidance that is highly likely to see you right. This issue is covered more in the page covering adverbial clauses.

Knowing that post-positioned adverbials don't get a comma is handy. Look at these examples:
  • At 4 o'clock, the new manager, David Bain, will visit.
  • (This is correct, but it has too many commas. It's messy.)
  • The new manager, David Bain, will visit at 4 o'clock.
  • (With only two commas, this version is neater.)

Use Commas for a Mid-Sentence Adverbial

Here is an example of an adverbial phrase in the middle of a sentence:
  • I'm very proud of my gold pocket watch. My grandfather, on his deathbed, sold me this watch. (Actor Woody Allen)
  • (It is a common practice to use commas around a mid-sentence adverbial.)
Commas around a mid-sentence adverbial usually aid reading, and they can help to eliminate ambiguity in the form of a misplaced modifier. For example:
  • John feeds his dog, with pig's ears, twice a day.
  • (The commas make it clear the shaded text is an adverb. This adverbial phrase tells us how John feeds his dog.)
  • John feeds his dog with pig's ears twice a day.
  • (This is ambiguous. Without the commas, the shaded text could be an adjective phrase, giving us a dog with pig's ears.)
While this example is a little contrived, misplaced modifiers that cause readers to question whether they're reading an adverbial phrase or an adjective phrase are common.

Read more about misplaced modifiers.

More about Fronted Adverbial Phrases and Clauses

A fronted adverbial can be anything from just one word to a long clause. These "introductions" vary hugely. They are known as dependent clauses because they cannot stand alone as complete ideas. If an "introduction" contains its own subject and verb, it will be an adverbial clause, otherwise it will be an adverbial phrase. The main part of the sentence (i.e., typically the clause after the "introduction") is called an independent clause.

Read more about phrases and clauses.

More Examples of Fronted Adverbial Clauses and Adverbial Phrases

In these examples, the fronted adverbial phrases and adverbial clauses are shaded:
  • In the centre of London, the number of people who fell victim to pickpockets rose by 30 per cent in a month.
  • (This adverbial phrase sets a place.)
  • After twelve years of therapy, my psychiatrist said something that brought tears to my eyes. He said, "No hablo ingles."
  • (This adverbial phrase sets a time.)
  • In ancient Rome, it was considered a sign of leadership to be born with a crooked nose.
  • (This adverbial phrase sets a place and a time.)
  • As soon as the cake is golden-brown, take it out of the oven.
  • (This adverbial clause sets a time.)
  • From the moment I picked your book up until I laid it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Someday, I intend reading it. (Groucho Marx)
  • (The first is an adverbial phrase that sets a time. The second is an adverbial phrase that sets a time.)
  • When I was young, I used to think that money was the most important thing in life. Now that I am old, I know it is. (Playwright Oscar Wilde)
  • (Both adverbial clauses set a time.)
  • On Tuesday 4th July a band played carols in the park for 8 hours.
  • (The adverbial phrase "On Tuesday 4th July" sets a time. It is an introduction and should be followed by a comma.)
  • If you are going through hell, keep going. (Prime Minister Winston Churchill)
  • (This adverbial clause sets a condition.)

Different Types of Adverbs

Here are some more examples of the different types of adverbial phrase or clause:

Adverbs of Time

  • When the cake is brown, remove it from the oven.
  • Every two minutes, check the pressure gauge.
  • ("Every two minutes" is an adverb of frequency, which is a type of adverb of time.)

Adverbs of Place

  • In the middle of the park, there will be band.

Adverbs of Manner

  • Like a veteran tightrope walker, he inched along the ledge.

Adverbs of Degree

  • More stealthily than ever before, he tiptoed past his parents' room.

Adverbs of Condition

  • If it snows, the lights will look amazing.

Adverbs of Concession

  • Even though he has no teeth, he is still handsome.

Adverbs of Reason

  • Since you asked nicely, you can have my last sweet.
Read more about the different types of adverbs.
Warning!


The main focus of this page is using a comma after a fronted adverbial. However, we've also touched upon commas with mid-sentence and post-positioned phrases and clauses.

The guidance offered will see you right 99% of the time, but you should be aware that offsetting phrases and clauses with commas often depends on whether the phrase or clause is essential for meaning (called a restrictive clause) or non-essential for meaning (called a non-restrictive clause). Here's the real rule:
  • Restrictive clauses don't get commas. Non-restrictive clauses do.
Read more about restrictive and non-restrictive clauses.
Ready for the Test?
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See Also

Using commas (a summary) Try our commas test Commas after a transitional phrase Commas after interjections (yes, no, indeed) Commas before conjunctions (and, or, but) Commas for parenthesis Commas in lists Commas with a long subject Commas with numbers Commas with quotation (speech) marks Commas with the vocative case Commas with Dear, Hello, and Hi