by Shauna Bolton


You wanted help figuring out commas, and here it is.



  • The coordinating conjunctions – for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so – connect sentences of equal weight. This means that both sentences are equally important to the writer. The coordinating conjunction tells us to read them that way.
  • Example 3a: The Seahawks won, and the Broncos lost.

In this sentence, the coordinating conjunction “and” tells us the Broncos’ loss is just as important as the Seahawks’ win.

  • Dependent clauses are sentences (independent clauses) that begin with a subordinating conjunction, words like after, until, because, when, before, if, although, etc.

The word “subordinate” means to “order,” or place, something/someone under (the prefix sub- means “under”) something/someone else. If you have a boss, you are a subordinate, and you work under his/her direction.

In the same way, subordinating conjunctions make one independent clause less important than the other.

  • Example 3b: Although the Broncos lost, the Seahawks won.

This example is a variation on Example 3a. When “although” is placed before the independent clause “the Broncos lost,” it subordinates that sentence, meaning it makes that sentence less important.

What that means is this: The author clearly wanted both teams to win. That didn’t happen, but the Broncos’ loss is less important to the author than the Seahawks’ win.

  • If the dependent clause starts the sentence, a comma follows to separate it from the independent clause.
    • Example 3c: When they finished eating the children cleared the table.

Without the comma, cannibals are at the table. The subject of the independent clause, “the children” becomes the object of the dependent clause’s verb, “eating.” A comma prevents this.

When they finished eating, the children cleared the table.

The cannibals have vanished; all that remains are helpful children.

  • Like adverbs, dependent clauses are moveable. They can come before, inside, or after the independent clause.
    • Example 3d: After the concert ended, traffic jams kept us in the parking lot for an hour.

First, notice how the sentence would read without the comma.

After the concert ended traffic jams… If only it could.

    • Example 3e: Traffic jams after the concert ended kept us in the parking lot for an hour.
    • Example 3f: Traffic jams kept us in the parking lot for an hour after the concert ended.

Each of these variations tells us when the traffic jams happened.When is an adverb function.








    • Participles are past tense or progressive verbs used as adjectives.
    • Past tense verbs usually end in -ED.
    • Progressive verbs end in -ING.


  1. The toast burned. (past tense verb ending in -ed.)

Burned toast stinks. (past tense verb describes noun “toast.”

  1. The bat went flying (past progressive verb ending in -ing.)

The flying bat hit me. (progressive verb describes the noun “bat.”)

  • Like prepositional phrases, participial phrases have both adjective and adverb functions. These phrases are adjectives if they describe nouns or pronouns or adverbs if they tell us when, where, why, how many, how long, how much, etc.
  • When a participial phrase begins a sentence, insert a comma after the participial phrase. Participial phrases are also moveable. These examples are for past-tense participles.
  • Example 4a: Burned beyond recognition, the body was unidentifiable.
  • Example 4b: The body, burned beyond recognition, was unidentifiable.
  • Example 4c: The body was unidentifiable, burned beyond recognition.

In each of these examples, the participial phrase “burned beyond recognition” describes the condition of the noun “body.” Adjective funtion.

  • The rule for using commas with a participial phrase is EASY.

ALWAYS use commas to separate the participial phrase from the independent clause.

These examples are for “-ing” participles.

    • Example 4d: Looking for a meal, the hawks floated on the rising air.
    • Example 4e: The hawks, looking for a meal, floated on the rising air.
    • Example 4f: The hawks floated on the rising air, looking for a meal.

In each of these examples, the participial phrase “looking for a meal” tells why the hawks floated. Adverb function.

  • Participial phrases are one of the best ways to add detail to your sentences.
    • They don’t require subjects or objects.
    • You can make them as long or as short as you want or need.
    • You can put them at the beginning, middle, or end.
    • You can use two or more of them in the same sentence.
    • They are great for reducing word count while retaining detail.


The storm surge carried with it tons of sand that overwhelmed residents. The sand filled their cottages and buried their gardens. (21 words)

Tons of sand, carried with the storm surge, overwhelmed residents, filling their cottages, burying their gardens.  (16 words = 24% cut)


Read Part 1

Read Part 2

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