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Comma Before a Verb — Punctuation Tactics

Comma Before a Verb — Punctuation Tactics

Have you been wondering when to place a comma before a verb? Tricky question, isn’t it? Well, don’t get worked up because a lot of people out there also ask the same thing.

In our post today, we’ll discuss when exactly you would need a comma before a verb as well as when you must get rid of it.

A bit later, you will also find out what makes this particular comma placement issue confusing and how you should go about it.

Let’s begin right away.

 

When should a comma be placed before a verb?

A comma should come before a verb when the verb introduces a parenthetical expression, appears after a parenthetical or introductory expression, is used after a direct address, as well as when it is used in series. But, no comma should come before restrictive main verbs and infinitives.

 

Comma before a verb dos and don’ts

Although there are a lot of existing online resources out there, the information they offer may sometimes be not enough or does not precisely hit your particular concern.

Essentially, this is because it is impossible to use a piece of catch-all explanation for specific and special comma-related concerns.

To contribute to solving the issue, we meticulously cover these comma-related issues in parts for easier understanding.

The comma placement before a verb is guided by a few conditions that are meanwhile related to general punctuation rules. You may find these rules in our comma cheat sheet article.

In the context of today’s discussion, grammatical concepts like “restrictive” and “non-restrictive” information as well as “introductory” and “serial” expressions have to be considered.

In other words, we have to know how the verb is specifically used with the other parts of the sentence, as well as the emphasis the writer wants to convey, to answer our inquiry.

In case you feel the need to know the basics about verbs, feel free to bookmark our participial phrases 101 and linking verbs 101 articles and save them for later.

In addition, you could also check the difference between transitive verbs and intransitive verbs if you find these concepts unfamiliar.

Now, here are the particular instances in which you would need to use a comma before a verb in writing:

 

A comma should come before a verb…

Long story short, a comma before a verb or a verb phrase is necessary when the verb introduces information that is not grammatically necessary or “restrictive” to a sentence.

A common piece of knowledge in its own right, the comma becomes necessary too when more than two verbs are written in series.

The idea of restrictiveness in grammar is a key element in knowing whether a comma should come before any verb or verb phrase.

This refers to the grammatical importance of a word, phrase, or clause concerning the remaining parts of the sentence where it belongs.

A piece of information that is grammatically disposable or unimportant is described as “non-restrictive” or “non-defining”; its job is to “add” meaning and emphasis only.

Meanwhile, anything that is grammatically important is defined as “restrictive” because the sentence does not make sense without it.

Now that these things have already been explained, let us proceed with the first condition that guides the necessary comma placement before a verb.

 

When the verb introduces a parenthetical expression

Non-restrictive” information is also known as a “parenthetical” expression. Parenthetical expressions are interruptive thoughts added for emphatic or rhetorical reasons.

As language is dynamic and humans are creative, these kinds of expressions may be conveniently placed anywhere in the sentence, especially in literary contexts.

Parenthetical expressions are separated with commas to represent their “throwaway” meaning in connection with the whole sentence.

Therefore, a comma should come before a verb if and when the verb introduces any piece of non-restrictive information in the sentence.

For clarity, here’s an example of a verb introducing a parenthetical expression in the middle of a sentence where a pre-comma is needed:

Example:

Mary, singing loudly in the coffee shop, did not notice that people were staring.

 
And, here’s another example of a parenthetical expression introduced by a verb at the end of the sentence:

Example:

The choir captivated the audience with genuine emotions, singing along with the rhythmic strikes of their maestro’s wooden baton.

 
Parentheticals may also be introduced by verb-like words and phrases that are actually used either as prepositions or conjunctions in a sentence.

These verb-like words and phrases often end in “-ing” or “-ed” such as “considering,” “resulting in,” and “provided.”

That said, a comma before “considering” is necessary when it introduces additional, non-restrictive information in a sentence.

Similarly, you would also need a comma before “resulting in” as well as a comma before “provided” when they are also used to introduce any grammatically unnecessary information.

 

When the verb appears after a parenthetical expression

Now that the foundations of the comma placement together with non-restrictive information have been laid out, this section should be easily understood.

Based on the arguments in the previous section, a comma also automatically comes before a verb when it appears right after a parenthetical insertion.

As mentioned, commas are essentially used to encapsulate parenthetical expressions because they are grammatically disposable.

Note, though, that the rhetorical appeal of the sentence also gets lost when the parenthetical expression is removed.

Parenthetical insertions in the form of personal comments and opinions are discouraged in academic texts because they reduce the credibility of arguments.

Here’s an example of a sentence containing a verb that comes right after the parenthetical expression:

Example:

That old cabin by the lake, albeit with an eerie ambiance, attracts a lot of visitors.

 
As the main verb comes later in the sentence above, it should have a pre-comma because of the parenthetical interruption introduced by the contrastive conjunction “albeit.”

As you can see, a comma comes before “albeit” as well because the idea it introduces has only been added for the sake of emphasis.

Without the parenthetical insertion, this sentence still makes complete sense: The old cabin by the lake attracts a lot of visitors.

 

When the verb appears after an introductory expression

Introductory expressions such as conjunctive adverbs like “next” and “then,” participial phrases like “not wanting to lose,” and prepositional phrases like “to see its effect” are also set off with commas.

Hence, the comma that comes after any introductory element in a sentence also serves as the verb’s pre-comma if the verb comes afterward.

Introductory expressions are used in writing to make ideas coherent, as well as to offer some pre-contextualization towards the reader.

Here’s an example of a verb appearing right after an introductory expression:

Example:

Then, boil one liter of water in a cauldron for about six to ten minutes.

 
As you may notice, the example above is a command that is commonly found in written recipes or live cooking shows.

In writing and speaking commands and requests, the subject (often “you”) is implied and, hence, not included in the construction anymore.

 

When the verb comes after a direct address

In connection with commands, direct addresses also need commas in the world of texts.

A direct address is used to convey a message directly to a person or any other entity.

Apart from names, titles and endearments may also be used in a direct address. Writing this way also essentializes comma usage.

A comma before or after a direct address is used when following formal writing guidelines, and thus, a comma should also come before a verb if a direct address is used before it.

Example:

Calvin, watch your tone! Don’t talk to me that way.

 
As this condition is part of our common knowledge, let us now move on to the next and last guideline on using a comma before a verb.

 

When the verb is used in series

Like nouns, verbs may also come in series. We may have to write this way if only one verb is not enough to represent what exactly we want to say.

A classic example from Lynn Trauss’s that accurately represents this condition is this sentence: The panda eats, shoots, and leaves.

However, remember that the meaning of the sentence changes if we remove the commas: The panda eats (bamboo) shoots and leaves.

To see this particular condition in a less ambiguous context, here’s another example:

Example:

He ran, stumbled, got wounded, and stood back up to finish the fight.

 

A comma must not come before a verb…

If there are conditions that necessitate the comma placement before a verb, there are also certain cases that dismiss the comma’s necessity.

The first one is when the verb is used as the main verb in the sentence without any preceding or succeeding parenthetical insertions.

The second is when the verb is in its infinitive form and bears meaning that is restrictive to the rest of the sentence.

 

When the verb is used as the main verb in the sentence

No comma should come before any information that is restrictive or grammatically indispensable to the host sentence.

With this in mind, it is needless to say that a comma should never be placed before a verb when it acts as the main verb in the sentence.

This is the case most of the time, and thus, worrying about whether or not to place a comma before a verb should not be that much of a concern.

Example:

(correct) The coastguard searched the nearby areas last week.

 

(incorrect) The coastguard searched the nearby areas last week.

 
However, this condition becomes tricky with longer subjects, which are generally not encouraged in academic writing because they make sentences vague.

Nevertheless, a comma should still not come before the main verb despite lengthy subjects as a default rule.

Example:

(correct) Being able to drive on his way to the grocery store and back home is my blind neighbor’s “wildest” yet humblest dream.

 

(incorrect) Being able to drive on his way to the grocery store and back home is my blind neighbor’s “wildest” yet humblest dream.

 

When the infinitive verb is restrictive

Infinitive verbs are the basic form of verbs fronted with the preposition “to.” They can be used as nouns, adjectives, and adverbs in a sentence.

Regardless of the infinitive’s function, no comma should be placed before “to” or before the verb itself if and when it introduces any piece of grammatically-necessary information.

As you can see in the next set of examples, placing a comma in the latter two sentences will never be reasonable.

Example:

(correct) Legally blind since birth, Sylvia does not have the ability to see.

 

(incorrect) Legally blind since birth, Sylvia does not have the ability to, see.

 

(incorrect) Legally blind since birth, Sylvia does not have the ability, to see.

 
The main verb in the examples able is “does not have,” while the infinitive verb is “to see.” The infinitive is used as an adjective for the noun “ability.”

If you try to remove the infinitive “to see” to check its restrictiveness, you would notice that you will get a grammatically incomplete sentence.

 

The confusion on placing a comma before a verb

Lengthy subjects, interrruptive expressions, and relative clause insertions are three of the main reasons why we get confused on whether a comma should come before a verb.

Subjects that are too long get tricky because the main verb gets far enough that writers themselves may tend to forget what they are writing about.

The solution for this is to try to simplify the subject by reducing it into one to three words before making the comma decision.

Example:

(lengthy subject) The work-related pressure that Helen has been experiencing lately seems to be causing her insomnia.

 

(shortened subject) Helen’s work-related pressure seems to be causing her insomnia.

 
Another reason for the confusion is the insertion of parenthetical expressions, particularly before the main verb in sentences.

The solution here is to simply remove the parenthetical insertion and see whether what’s left still makes up a grammatically-correct sentence.

Example:

Paul, only half awake when his sister barged in, squints his eyes against the sunlight seeping into his linen curtains.

 

Paul squints his eyes against the sunlight seeping into his linen curtains.

 
Lastly, the usage of a relative clause introduced by either “which” or “than” right after the subject also makes things worse.

The solution for this is to learn the difference between “which” vs. “that” as well as guidelines for the proper placement of a comma before a relative clause to get rid of the issue.

In general, which-clauses need commas, whereas that-clauses don’t.

Example:

(which) My red pen, which you borrowed and did not return, is not here.

 

(that) The pen that you borrowed and did not return is not here.

 

Frequently Asked Questions on “Comma Before a Verb”

 

Does a comma come before a verb in a relative clause?

A comma should come before a “non-restrictive” relative clause, such as those introduced by the relative pronoun “which.” However, a comma should not come before a “restrictive” clause, such as in clauses headed by “that.”

 

Do we need a comma before the second verb?

If the “second verb” refers to an infinitive phrase whose meaning is grammatically important to the rest of the sentence, a comma must not be used. However, if the “second verb” introduces parenthetical information, then a comma is necessary.

 

Can we put a comma before verbs ending in “-ing” and “-ed”?

Verb-like prepositions and conjunctions like “considering that,” “resulting in” and “provided” would need pre-commas if they introduce information that is used for “additional” and “emphatic” purposes.

 

Conclusion

No matter what field we belong to, writing is often part of our tasks and responsibilities. Hence, saying that “punctuation is important” is an understatement.

By this point, I hope the question of whether a comma should come before a verb has already been precisely answered.

Hope to see you in our next post!