In the first post about punctuation and style we learned something about the use of commas in subject. Important issue when we have to do inverse translations (Spanish into English), reviews, academic texts, and so on.
Remember, on the basis that the normal word order in an independent clause is SUBJECT + PREDICATE, and talking specifically about the predicate:
- Never put a single comma between a subject and its verb.
- Use commas with verb modifiers displaced from their normal word order.
Take into account that, although noun modifiers have to stay near their head nouns, verb modifiers can wander about in the sentence. When they have a normal position do not require internal punctuation.
1.- Normal order for verb modifiers, NO PUNCTUATION needed:
SUBJECT ADVERB VERB OBJECT
The judge reluctantly sentenced the thief.
SUBJECT SPLIT VERB PHRASE (adverb following the first auwxliary verb) OBJECT
The judge had relunctantly sentenced the thief.
SUBJECT VERB OBJECT ADVERB
The judge sentenced the thief reluctantly.
SUBJECT VERB OBJECT PREPOSITIONAL PHRASE
The judge sentenced the thief in a quick speech.
SUBJECT VERB OBJECT INFINITIVE PHRASE
The judge cleared the court to hear the objection.
SUBJECT VERB OBJECT ADVERBIAL CLAUSE
The judge sentenced the thief because he was guilty.
Notice that you normally don’t put verb modifiers between a verb and its object.
On the second hand, verb modifers which don’t follow the normal word order have to be grouped separately from the rest of the sentence with commas.
2.- Displaced verb modifiers, PUNCTUATION needed:
ADVERB, SUBJECT VERB OBJECT
Reluctantly, the judge sentenced the thief.
PREPOSITIONAL PHRASE, SUBJECT VERB OBJECT
In a quick speech, the judge sentenced the thief.
SUBJECT ,PREPOSITIONAL PHRASE, VERB OBJECT
The judge ,in a quick speech, setenced the thief.
INFINITIVE PHRASE, SUBJECT VERB OBJECT
To hear the objection, the judge cleared the court.
SUBJECT ,INFINITIVE PHRASE, VERB OBJECT
The judge ,to hear the objection, cleared the court.
ADVERBIAL CLAUSE, SUBJECT VERB OBJECT
Because he was guilty, the judge sentenced the thief.
SUBJECT ,ADVERBIAL CLAUSE, VERB OBJECT
The judge ,because he was guilty, sentenced the thief.
The last two sentences are ambiguous: they both suggest that the judge is the person who was guilty. This situation occurs in many example sentences, and this is a problem in pronoun reference which can be easily corrected by reordering the pronoun and the noun:
Because the thief was guilty, the judge sentenced him.
The judge, because the thief was guilty, sentenced him.
But another problem can appear, like in the second sentence above: it is better not to separate the subject from its verb with a lengthy adverbial (example in bold), your readers may forget what the subject is when they reach the verb. It is not a grammar rule, in fact it is a grammatically correct sentence, it is a matter of common sense; always make things as easy as possible for your readers.
In a next post I’ll write about other internal punctuation in clauses.
For further information check A Writer’s Guide, Easy ground rules for successful written English, by Jane Walpole. Prentice-Hall, Inc. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey 07632.