comma with present participle: when is it needed?


Senior Member

In participle constructions, there are cases where some sentences have a comma and others don't.

1. My mother is cleaning the kitchen singing a song.(no comma)
2. Tom is standing at the gate, talking with his friends.(with a comma)

When do we need a comma?
  • Whatever, there's no strict rule about the use of a comma here. The purpose of any punctuation is to make the logic of the sentence clear, and the longer the sentence the more need there is to break it up into smaller parts; this sentence you are reading is an example of that. A comma marks the slightest of pauses.

    So in your examples, the writer of the first one felt that a pause wasn't needed, the writer of the second one disagreed. I personally prefer the one with a comma, but I wouldn't consider the other to be terribly faulty.
    An example of a sentence that needs a comma for clarity, as Keith noted, is:

    My mother is visiting the neighbors, singing a song.

    The comma lets the reader know that your mom is the one doing the singing (although I suppose the neighbors could be joining in).

    Commas aren't required in the examples you offered because kitchens may hum, but they don't sing, and while gates may squeak and rattle, they neither speak nor prattle.