comma after 'early' + temporal phrase [adverb]: Early that night, he

Discussion in 'English Only' started by tsukare-chatta!, Jul 6, 2010.

  1. tsukare-chatta! Member

    English, Mandarin
    Dear all,

    I'm a little confused with the usage of comma in this sentence.

    Are both sentences correct?

    1. "Early that night he went to bed."
    2. "Early that night, he went to bed."

    To be honest when I read sentence 1, I do pause after the word "night". In the case of sentence 2, I just pause longer because of the comma.

    What I'd like to find out is.... is sentence 2 also correct, and when exactly do you use the comma?

    Thanks in advance!
  2. Camlearner Senior Member

    Hi tsukare-chatta!

    I also often face this comma problems that seem to me flexible or almost up to each writer??

    I just want to share this sentence
    which I copied from my Longman dictionary: In many respects the new version is not as good as the old one.

    If I think about my grammar lessons and write the sentence, I will write: In many respects, the new version is not as good as the old one.
    but the dictionary does not put [,] :confused:
  3. e2efour Senior Member

    England (aged 75)
    UK English
    "Early that night, he went to bed."

    Here the comma is totally unnecessary. I would also say that it cannot be justified.
    While it is true that a comma is sometimes used when there is a pause, that is not really its function. It should be used mainly where it makes clear the structure of the sentence.
    A similar misuse of the comma is after a time phrase: "In February, the snow began to fall." On the internet just now I read the following (even worse, it was in an article about teaching English!): "In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue." There is no possible justification for a comma after 1492.

    "In many respects, the new version is not as good as the old one."
    Many writers use the convention of putting a comma after a short phrase (e.g. on the contrary, on the other hand, under the circumstances) at the beginning of the sentence. The same applies in the middle of the sentence. "That chair is, in many respects, very like one I used to have in my dining room."
    However, you can also take the view that the comma should only be used if it makes the sentence clearer. I don't think this is true in this case, although I don't feel strongly about it.

    I hope this helps.
  4. TriglavNationalPark

    TriglavNationalPark Senior Member

    Chicago, IL, U.S.A.
    Slovenian (a.k.a. Slovene)
    I believe this is a BrE/AmE difference, at least to some extent. AmE sources tend to prefer a comma in such situations.

    Some examples from the last few days' editions of major American newspapers:

    In 2009, he appeared on "Battle of the Blades," a Canadian reality show featuring figure skaters paired with hockey players.

    In 1989, Ayatollah Fadlallah distanced himself from Hezbollah, when it named as its new marja the Iranian successor to Ayatollah Khomeini.

    So far in 2010, Halladay has won games by scores of 2-1, 2-0, 1-0, and 3-2.

    In 2009, Seattle defeated the 2008 cup winner, DC United, in the Final.

    It's the same with books; AmE books tend to include such commas, whereas BrE books tend to omit them.

    I strongly suspect that your sentence about Columbus ("In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue") comes from an AmE source.
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2010
  5. Majorbloodnock Senior Member

    South East England
    British English
    I don't feel any stronger than you, e2efour, but I'm afraid I disagree. The phrase "Earlier that night" can perfectly justifiably be seen as a parenthetical phrase, so split from the sentence by a comma. In other words, the sentence would still make sense if you took out that phrase altogether. The same is true with the date example you gave.
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2010
  6. Camlearner Senior Member


    Just want to say if I take English grammar exam, I will ask who is the exam corrector? If he is Am, I will put comma and if he is Br, I will not put it. :p

    But the problem is when a team of correctors of mixed nationalities, I will not know how to do. :confused: That's why some native speakers seemed to tell me that my English grammar lessons do not work sometimes.
  7. Majorbloodnock Senior Member

    South East England
    British English
    Worth noting, Camlearner, that e2efour and I both speak British English.
  8. Harry Batt

    Harry Batt Senior Member

    USA English
    My handbook for writers favors today the elimination of commas except where the meaning would be unclear without them. A comma, colon, semicolon or other punctuation which commands a pause or stop ought to have a reason for that stop.
  9. chifladoporlosidiomas Senior Member

    San Francisco
    English (US)
    Pro-comma. Just how I was taught in school. We use The Elements of Style book as a reference. And there it clearly states that a commA should be used in such circumstances. It's primarily AmE
    Last edited: Jul 6, 2010
  10. e2efour Senior Member

    England (aged 75)
    UK English
    These sentences are not about commas in the examples you gave at the start of this post, but about commas in relative clauses. In sentence 2 "which" could refer to the house or a school. In sentence 1 it refers to one of two or more schools.

    As Harry Batt says, the recommendation is not to use commas unless there is on the whole a need for them.

    Two sentences from the Chicago Manual of Style (US English):
    In March 2003 she turned seventy.
    On Thanksgiving Day 1998 they celebrated their seventy-fifth anniversary.

    It would be rather interesting if one of your teachers told you that you must put a comma in these sentences.

    In sentences such as "In 1939 Britain declared war on Germany" there is no justification for a comma after 1939, in either AE or BE.
    "In fourteen hundred ninety-two
    Columbus sailed the ocean blue."
    was or is well-known to schoolchildren in the UK, although it seems to originate from America.
    There is again no justification for writing "In 1492,".

    The Elements of Style has a very poor reputation among academics. You can, of course, choose your academic to say something different!
  11. chifladoporlosidiomas Senior Member

    San Francisco
    English (US)
    I think it's to accomodate the unusual word order that English is so strict about. Just imagine, we would have to use inverted word order if there were no comma.
    The man unfortunately had to kill his son. right?
    Unfortunately, the man had to kill his son.

    Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1942.
    In 1942, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

    I think it's the transposition that requires the comma. Moreover, bringing the time to the beginning of the sentence is giving it emphasis and there should be a pause to emphasize the fact even more.

    good night. im tired
  12. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    The style guides listed in the sticky thread at the top of this forum indicate that a comma is appropriate after an introductory comment. The University of Sussex guide calls this a "bracketing comma".

    The same guide points out that such a comma may often be omitted if the meaning of the sentence is clear and unambiguous without it.

    The meaning of the topic sentence is clear and unambiguous without the comma.

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