Commas with Dependent Clauses

The Rule*:

Place a comma after a dependent clause when it comes before the main clause. If the dependent clause comes after the main clause, place a comma before the dependent clause only if it is nonrestrictive.

*While I use the term “rule,” please know that these are more like guidelines, and once you know and understand this rule, you may chose to break it to create an intentional effect.

Terms to Know:

Dependent Clause: A dependent clause contains both a subject and a verb, but it cannot stand on its own. It is not a complete thought.

Restrictive: It is essential to the meaning of the sentence.

Nonrestrictive: It is not essential to the meaning of the sentence.

Examples:

Because he studied for the test, he did very well.

  • Because he studied for the test is a dependent clause as it contains both a subject and a verb and cannot stand alone. Since the dependent clause came first, it is followed by a comma.

We will agree to the proposal if you accept our conditions.

  • If you accept our conditions is a dependent clause, and since it is essential to the meaning of the sentence (restrictive), no comma is used.

You can have more, if you want.

  • If you want is a dependent clause, and since it is nonessential to the meaning of the sentence (nonrestrictive), a comma is used.

A Note on While and Whereas:

Whereas will usually have a comma in front of it since it is contrasting two things. You don’t have to determine whether it is essential or nonessential because contrasts always use a comma.

When while means whereas, it is also separated by a comma. But when it means during the time when or at the same time as, it is usually always providing essential information, so no comma is used.

He chose to leave, while she was fired.

He chose to leave, whereas she was fired.

He moved while he was still in high school.

Practice:

  1. She cheered for him when he smashed the spider.
  2. He cocked his head and watched them go for a second before skittering off toward his food bowl.
  3. Maybe he was jealous that she could get away with what she did whereas he was treated like a pest to be eradicated.
  4. The walls are decorated with framed black-and-white photos of Yosemite while the desk and shelves sport photos of a woman and two toddlers.
  5. He isn’t very effective until he has his first cup of coffee.
  6. She refused to eat it even though her mom spent forever preparing it.
  7. We planned the party while he was away for the week.
  8. I am always ready to learn although I do not like to be taught.


Answers:

  1. She cheered for him (no comma) when he smashed the spider.
  2. He cocked his head and watched them go for a second (no comma) before skittering off toward his food bowl.
  3. Maybe he was jealous that she could get away with what she did, whereas he was treated like a pest to be eradicated.
  4. The walls are decorated with framed black-and-white photos of Yosemite, while the desk and shelves sport photos of a woman and two toddlers.
  5. He isn’t very effective (no comma) until he has his first cup of coffee.
  6. She refused to eat it, even though her mom spent forever preparing it.
  7. We planned the party (no comma) while he was away for the week.
  8. I am always ready to learn, although I do not like to be taught.

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