Time plays a salient role in human conversations which means time-related expressions are equally-vital in the process.
One of the most functionally used words relevant to time in the English corpora is the adverb of frequency “often.”
Besides, punctuation marks such as commas also facilitate the disambiguation of thought representations in the written language, and thereby worth-discussing.
Read further to understand comma-related guidelines particularly after the frequency adverb “often.”
When is a comma necessary after “often”?
A comma after “often” is used when it is used as the final or only element in a sentence’s introductory expression. The same comma rule applies when it ends either a frontal dependent clause or a mid-sentence parenthetical statement. Lastly, a post-comma is conveniently mandatory as well when it precedes a sentence-final disjunctive adverbial.
What are adverbs of frequency?
Adverbs of frequency in particular are expressions used in representing the rate of occurrences of events minus the complexity of numbers and time measurements.
The most common and accessible, not to mention overused, adverbs of frequency in English are “always,” “sometimes,” and “often.”
The overusing tendency leans more among non-native language users, which is influenced mainly by the relatively limited lexicon or vocabulary knowledge.
Defining the vague quantifier “often” further, it means less frequent than “always” but more prevalent than “sometimes.”
Put simply, it lies somewhere between always and sometimes which means it is neither suitable for describing activities that happen daily nor yearly.
Comma after “often”
A few guidelines may induce the comma placement after “often” in sentence construction.
A post-comma is conveniently used in a sentence wherein “often” is used as a single-word sentence introduction.
Two more cases are when it serves as the last word either in a longer introductory expression or a frontal dependent clause.
Moreover, a post-comma is also mandatory when it is used as the last word in a parenthetical statement located mid-sentence.
Lastly, an after-comma is attached when “often” precedes a sentence-final disjunctive expression.
When “often” is used as an introductory word
An introductory word is a single lexeme that initiates a sentence construction.
Introductory elements are typically offset with an after-comma to distinguish the initial context from the main clause.
The after-comma conveniently lessens any chances of the obscurity of how one word relates to another in the same sentence.
In colloquial English, the after-comma may be left out for as long as the rhythm and meaning of the sentence aren’t ruined.
However, the comma omission might raise eyebrows in more formalistic writing registers, and hence caution and audience consideration are advised.
When “often” is used as the last word in an introductory expression
Taking the same comma rule explained earlier, introductory expressions, whether long or short, are to be set off with an after-comma placement.
This is done to unmistakably separate the initial context from the main idea intended by the writer in a written statement.
With the example above, placing the temporal adverb in the introduction part elicits a strong emphasis on the frequency of the aforementioned activity.
When “often” is used as the last word in a frontal dependent clause
A dependent clause followed by an independent clause constitutes a complex sentence.
Complex sentences contain at least one dependent and one independent clause connected by a subordinating conjunction.
This type of sentence construction utilizes the same post-comma rule as the other introductory elements mentioned earlier.
This is done, again, to mark the segregation between the two clausal structures.
A comma, however, is not placed when the structure is reversed, which means placing the independent before the dependent clause.
When “often” is used as the last word in a mid-sentence parenthesis
When we transform our thoughts into words, we may tend to insert ideas either accidentally or intentionally.
In stylistics, we refer to these thought insertions as “parentheses,” with the singular form “parenthesis.”
Parenthetical components in discourse are additional information that aims to clarify, digress, understate, or add humor to an utterance.
This kind of information is generally creative and appealing, yet they are grammatically-insignificant to the whole sentence construction.
Commas invariably encapsulate these ideas so as to mark their dispensability together with the writer’s intended emphasis.
It, therefore, follows that a comma should come after “often” when it is the last word of a parenthetical expression, particularly found mid-sentence.
Since a parenthesis is grammatically-irrelevant, the sentence should still be able to express a complete thought albeit removed.
When “often” is used before a sentence-final disjunct
Disjuncts are a type of adverbials that express either the writer’s mood or truth evaluation toward a proposition.
Put simply, these are adverbs used by a writer or speaker to modify the whole sentence and express his or her opinion at the same time.
They are typically found at the beginning of the sentence to drive more emphasis and at the end for a relatively lesser focus.
Disjuncts are also isolated by commas since they are nonessential to the grammatical structure of the sentence as well.
Thus, a comma should come after “often” when it precedes a sentence-final disjunctive expression.
When should we not put a comma after “often”?
Augmenting our written competency does not end by only understanding when to place the commas.
It is also nonetheless crucial to know the guidelines that dictate when not to place a comma after “often.”
Commas are not necessary when adverbs are used to modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs.
Also, a post-comma is omissible when “often” weakly interrupts a sentence at the beginning.
When “often” modifies a verb
As regards verbal modification, “often” usually comes before the main verb in simple tenses and after the auxiliary verb when followed by the main verb.
The adjacency of adverbs to verbs directs the reader’s focus towards the verb being modified.
We do not put any commas around frequency adverbs when this type of sentence construction occurs.
In the sentence above, “often” modifies the verb “plays” which tells us the estimated frequency of the subject doing the activity mentioned.
When “often” modifies an adjective
Meanwhile, placing the adverb of frequency before the adjective shifts the emphasis toward the adjective rather than the verb.
The same comma nonplacement rule applies when “often” is used to modify adjectives in sentences.
With the example above, a reader can deduce that although the subject cooks tasty dishes most of the time, she may not be successful at other times.
It additionally implies that the subject is not an expert at cooking either.
When “often” modifies an adverb
The flexibility of adverbs allows them to be capable of modifying other adverbs in sentences.
When this happens, the premodification process transfers the highlighting effect towards the adverb being modified, as opposed to other elements.
Again, a comma is inessential in this type of construction, similar to the two previous cases.
“Often” modifies the adverb “here” in the statement which is pragmatically known as spatial deixis.
Spatial, or simply place deixis, is the usage of locative expressions that are relevant to a speaker or writer’s reference point.
Therefore, it may be difficult for a hearer or reader to understand their real meaning without any other provided context.
When “often” creates a weak interruption
The last circumstance that influences the comma omission is when “often” subtly interrupts a sentence at the beginning.
This may be applied in less formal written registers, but this is not advisable in formalistic texts.
Although “often” normally modifies verbs as activity rates are easier to measure, it may also be placed at the beginning of the sentence.
This is done, of course, for emphatic reasons particularly in shorter sentences wherein confusion and misinterpretation are less likely to occur.
A word as simple as “often” could have multiple grammatical functions and sentence positions.
This then implies that adverbs are more heterogeneous and complex than other functional categories such as nouns or verbs.
Therefore, being able to use adverbs together with appropriate comma placement entails higher-order thinking and linguistic literacy.
Hey fellow Linguaholics! It’s me, Marcel. I am the proud owner of linguaholic.com. Languages have always been my passion and I have studied Linguistics, Computational Linguistics and Sinology at the University of Zurich. It is my utmost pleasure to share with all of you guys what I know about languages and linguistics in general.