While beginning my next foray into the world of commas, I encoutered the world of dependent clauses. What is a dependent clause? I thought I knew, but just to be sure I looked it up. A dependent clause (also called a subordinate clause) is a group of words that conatin a subject and verb but are not a complete sentence. In other words, a reader expects more to come. You may recognize them as sentence fragments.
Example: Because the moon rose.
Example: Before the world turns on its axis.
After reading the two examples, you should be asking what happens next. That’s a dependent clause. It is interesting to note that if I eliminated the first word in each sentence I would have a complete sentence.
Example: The moon rose.
Example: The world turns on its axis.
But I digress. One nifty way to recognize dependent clauses is by a dependent word marker. They include: After, although, as, as if, because, before, even if, even though, if, in order to (that), once, provided that, rather than, so that, since, than, that, though, unless, until, whatever, when, whenever, whether, while, whereas, wherever, and why.
Dependent clauses can function as relative pronouns. These too have key words: That, which, whichever, who, whoever, whom, whose, whosoever, whomever.
So where does the comma magic come in? When the dependent clause is at the beginning of a sentence, you use a comma.
Example: Unless it rains, we are going hiking on Friday.
Oddly enough, a comma is not necessary when the dependent clause is at the end of a sentence.
Example: I ordered the Pattymelt because they were out of sourdough bread.
If the dependent clause is a relative pronoun, the rules get a little hinkey. Why? Well, you must decide if clause is essential or nonessential. If the clause is essential than you don’t need a comma.
Example: I tossed the rest of my French fries to the bird who was roosting nearby.
Apparently the clause is essential because bird is a general noun, and the clause specifies which one. If the noun is specific, a comma is needed because the information is no longer as important (nonessential).
Example: I tossed the rest of my French fries to Birdbrain, who was roosting nearby.
Birdbrain specifies which specific bird and the dependent is not really necessary to identify it. NOTE: I’ve also read where if the information revealed is not relevant to the sentence to use commas. This made my head ache because why would you include information not relevant to the sentence?
So now we come to more comma magic. As long you understand essential and nonessential clauses, this should be easy. If the essential clause is buried in the sentence, you do not need a comma.
Example: Because the storm caught them unprepared, the couple who were picnicing by the river wished they had brought an umbrella.
If the nonessential clause is buried in the sentence, you will set the clause off with commas.
Example: Because the storm caught them unprepared, Bernice and Jack, who were picnicing by the river, wished they had brought an umbrella.
Notice how cleverly I used two dependent clauses? By George I think I’ve got it!