comma after introductory clause [conjunction]: When the robber..., I


New Member
united states english
Hi. This sentence was recently marked incorrect on my son's homework...

When the robbers came I fought with one of them.

I thought this sentence was correct and a comma after the word
'came' was optional. Is this true?

Thanks for your help.
  • Strange as it may seem, I actually have a problem with "fought with." For some reason it makes me think that he had an argument with him. I would have said "When the robbers came, I fought one of them." But I think it's just me, soo... :eek:
    It's not just you... I agree. That does clean up the sentence, but she was only upset with the missing comma. Is it absolutely necessary?
    I've taught that when you start the sentence with "when", you always need a comma after the first phrase. That means you need a comma after "came" in this case. If you don't want to use the comma, maybe you should say "I fought one of the robbers when they came." And I agree Trisia about "fought with."
    But I'm not a native English speaker, so...:rolleyes:
    Hello 4max, and welcome to WordReference.

    I have no problem with "fought with", or indeed with the original sentence without the comma.

    Did the teacher explain why she thought there should be a comma?
    Did your son ask her :)

    HERE is a useful set of guidance for using commas in BE (British English).
    HERE is an AE (American English) alternative that might justify the comma (see #3).
    Thanks for your welcome and your input, Panjandrum. He did not ask the teacher, nor did she offer any explanation. I didn't want to push him to ask about it until I was at least a little confident that the comma wasn't necessary. It was the only error on the entire paper. I felt a little like she was just looking for something to mark wrong. The scoring rubic said that he would be graded on "end punctuation". I thought this meant at the end of the sentence. Seeing how he's only 10 years old anyway, I don't think she should be worried about this missing comma. It took 4 percentage points from his total grade.
    I agree with Leafy Kid. "When" is an adverb. That makes "When the robbers came" an adverbial clause, which in AE requires a comma.

    If the comma were truly optional, would the following make sense?

    When doubtful delegate.

    To me that seems like three unrelated words strung together.

    I was always taught to put the comma in.
    Thanks for those links, Panjandrum. I see the item (3) in the US version that you refer to, and it seems quite applicable in this case.
    Use a comma to set off introductory elements, as in "Running toward third base, he suddenly realized how stupid he looked."
    The author goes on to say: "It is permissible to omit the comma after a brief introductory element if the omission does not result in confusion or hesitancy in reading", so it seems the topic sentence is correct.

    It seems I tend towards this American style, myself. :)
    Thank you all for your help. I do agree with Matching Mole, that Panjandrum's links were most helpful and the use of the comma in this particular sentence is not necessary.
    I agree with Leafy Kid. "When" is an adverb. That makes "When the robbers came" an adverbial clause, which in AE requires a comma.If the comma were truly optional, would the following make sense?When doubtful delegate.To me that seems like three unrelated words strung together.I was always taught to put the comma in.

    I agree with this. I think the teacher was correct to mark it wrong.

    That introductory clause needs to be set off by a comma.

    It reads better, it's structurally correct in my opinion, and you pause there when you say it out loud.

    There are several problems implicit in this, it seems to me:

    1. We seem not to agree whether or not the comma is necessary.
    2. What had the teacher been teaching the children recently about comma usage?
    3. Obviously you need to avoid undermining the boy's confidence in the teacher. If that is his only 'mistake', both of them must be getting a lot of things right most of the time.
    4. I think it's very important to make sure that the boy is self-sufficient in school - Panjandrum's question about whether he asked the teacher for an explanation is important. If either the boy, or the teacher, or both, receive the impression that a parent in on the qui vive for a mistake, their future relationship is likely to be less productive. The fact remains that if you are deeply unhappy about the teacher - you must have more important grounds than the correction of one comma for this - then you obviously need to consider taking the matter further. At that stage you risk, of course, falling on a teacher who is less good that the first one.
    I'm not going to pick every word of your sentence, as is some people's propensity to do on here. Instead, I'll tell you that the comma is NOT optional. 'When the robbers came' is a subordinate (dependent) adverbial clause, which means that it must be followed by a comma. There is no way around this.
    I would the say the comma is required here. This phrase is not introductory material; it is a dependent clause. If a sentence begins with a dependent clause, you must have a comma after it (at least that's what all my English teachers required).
    Hmmm. He seems to love his teacher this year. He's had no opportunity to discuss it with her yet; she sends the tests in a folder directly to me. (He is only 10.) He's not had much work with commas yet. That's why he asked me what was wrong with it when I showed him the folder. After reading your feedback I see another problem. I (knowing more about commas) assumed that's what she thought was missing, when in fact, she may have misread it and was looking for a period. You see she only left a red circle. She did not correct it. It could be just a mistake in correction. Like I said before, he's only 10 years old and working on "end punctuation". "End punctuation", before this, has been whether he remembers to put a period, exclamation, or question mark. I was so stuck on thinking about whether a comma was necessary, that it never occurred to me that she could've mistakenly been looking for a period. It sure seemed unfair to be taking off points for a comma that may or may not have been necessary when they are just beginning to study writing. In any case, he'll be asking her for clarification tomorrow at school. Thanks again for all your help.
    This is one of those topics where sources are important, not simply opinion.

    From my superficial digging, the guidance varies, though it is worth pointing out that it is the AE site that gives some support for the comma - supporting the teacher's view. It is perhaps also worth noting that teaching of punctuation to ten-year-olds, like anything else, is likely to promote punctuation-by-rule before introducing flexibility. We need to take care not to apply post-graduate standards to ten-year-old punctuation :)

    In my own defence :) there is a world of a difference between:
    When doubtful delegate.
    - and -
    When the robbers came I fought with one of them.
    The first sentence demands a comma to be comprehensible - not least because delegate, without context, could be either a noun or a verb.
    I suggest that the second reads easily and fluently without a comma.

    And finally, Larry Trask states (see first link in previous post):
    To begin with, forget anything you've ever been told about using a comma "wherever you would pause", or anything of the sort; this well-meaning advice is hopelessly misleading.
    When reading aloud or singing, I always pause where a comma appears.
    That does not mean that when writing I must put a comma wherever I would pause. I often pause where there is no comma in the text.
    Commas are not meant to be breath-marks.
    I think the sort of point about a comma we are arguing about is far too advanced for a ten-year-old. 'End punctuation' sounds like learning when sentences end, which should be more elementary.