Have you ever been in doubt about where to put sneaky commas in sentences?
And, have you mistakenly thought of a word belonging to one part of speech when, in fact, it doesn’t?
Writing may seem to be one of the most agonizing tasks for most people, except for experts in the field of course.
Choosing the right word, constructing and deconstructing sentences, deciding where to punctuate, and selecting appropriate cohesive devices are just a few of the most common writing concerns; but, these mustn’t mess your head up.
This post aims to lay down comma-related decisions with the conjunction-seeming word, despite.
Is a comma necessary before or after “despite”?
A simple answer would be: no it isn’t. Since despite is generally used as a preposition similar to “in spite of”, a comma is not necessary before it, unless it acts as the first parenthetical discourse element.
Meanwhile, a comma is rather unnecessary after it, as well, unless it is the last word of either a mid-sentence parenthetical expression or introductory statement.
Thirdly, it may only require the assistance of commas when it appears in a serial list (which would most likely happen only if you’re writing a blog like this).
Comma before “despite”
Although we might be prompted to think that despite is a conjunction because of its contrastive or concessional connotation, it actually is a preposition, at least in most cases.
If we check for other interpretations or synonyms online, we may find suggestions such as the conjunctions although, even though, or even if, which could explain the confusion.
As a preposition, despite is normally followed by a noun, a noun phrase, or a pronoun and does not require a comma unless the intention of the writer is to emanate emphasis on the prepositional phrase introduced by despite.
When highlighting the despite-phrase, we need to stylistically insert commas around to clearly segregate the fragment from the rest of the sentence.
This is now known as parenthesis or parenthetical expression.
Despite as a parenthetical element
Parenthetical expressions are auxiliary speech elements enclosed by commas, brackets, or em dashes.
The information contained in parentheses is grammatically inessential yet stylistically significant, thereby optional and dispensable.
This means that a comma placement would be necessary before despite when we use it as the initial parenthetical word.
The sentence above is followed by a gerund-phrase or a verb disguising as a noun.
Now, let’s maybe look at something less controversial than a gerund.
Comma after “despite”
As mentioned above, we rarely need a comma placement after despite except for a handful of cases.
The first one is when it serves as the final word in a parenthetical insertion, which may be done if it is used as a verb or a noun instead of a preposition.
Another is when it acts, again, as a verb or a noun in an introductory phrase.
Despite as a final parenthetical element
The nominal (referring to nouns) meaning of despite would be more or less equivalent to “contempt” or “hatred”.
In other words, it is a feeling of anger or rage out of an unfavorable circumstance.
When we structure our parenthetical expression in such a way that it ends with the noun form of despite, then a comma has to be placed after it.
In addition, the verb to despite, as you may have already guessed, means to evoke hatred or anger.
The verb sense, however, is generally treated as archaic and obsolete; therefore, it is rarely used in contemporary texts.
A parenthetical statement ending in the verb to despite essentially needs a subsequent comma, too.
Despite as an introductory phrase’s final element
Starting sentences with introductory phrases are useful in providing initial background context to the succeeding information.
When despite appears as the last word of this kind of statement, then a comma is particularly positioned right after it, irrespective of the part of speech it belongs.
When is a comma not necessary before or after despite?
The answer to this is…pretty much all the time, except for the above-mentioned circumstances in particular.
Here are some specific examples to make the distinction as clear as bell.
Despite as a preposition
Despite is a preposition used to convey the true existence of information “x” even though “y” also exists; thus, the emphasis of “x” would not be clearly implied without stating “y” (despite-phrase).
That definition seems to be a bit of a mouthful.
Put simply, we use it for highlighting the occurrence of an action or idea despite the presence of another surprising entity.
Technicalities aside, we only need to bear in mind, though, that prepositional phrases are not to be syntactically tethered by commas in sentences.
Despite as a noun
Using despite in its nominal sense is relatively easy because we only need to structure it either as a subject or object in the sentence.
Without ifs and buts, commas are always insignificant in these cases.
Despite as a verb
Even if the verbal sense of despite is already outdated, knowing how to use it wouldn’t hurt a fly.
Similar to its nominal case, commas are also nonetheless useless in these instances.
Essentializing the despite-phrase
However, there are times wherein the information contained in the despite-phrase may or may not be so essential.
Treating sentence elements as essential or nonessential mainly depends on the background context of the information as well as the intention of the writer.
Therefore, the decision here is optional and should, again, not stress our brain cells out.
The key strategy for determining comma usage lies beneath the subsequent question: without providing any background context, would you still be able to convey the intended information as clearly as even after removing the despite-phrase?
If yes, then the comma is optional. If not, then a comma is unnecessary as with the sentence below.
However, compared to the next sentence sample with an optional comma, the necessity of the despite-phrase could be grammatically left out since it only serves as additional information.
The only difference it would make is the extent of the significance of the information in light of the whole sentence.
Adding a comma makes it a parenthetical expression, whereas its removal transforms it into an utterly essential part of the sentence.
Having the skill to efficiently determine comma placements within sentences elicits linguistic and cognitive flexibility.
Hence, reading a blog or two about it would be rather helpful than disadvantageous, albeit tasking and time-consuming.
Of course, dedicating time to apply comma-governing grammatical and stylistic rules in actual writing would aid in better retention, because as hardcore behaviorists say, “Life is a habit.”
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.