Using Commas With Introductory Phrases

Introductory phrases add color to the rest of your sentence for additional context. Some types of introductory phrases include prepositional and participial phrases.

But what are introductory phrases? How do they differ from introductory clauses? Should we put a comma after an introductory phrase? Learn these tips for using commas with introductory phrases and some sentence examples.

What are Introductory Phrases in Writing?

An introductory phrase is one at the start of a sentence that comes before the complete clause. This phrase allows the reader to understand the central message of the sentence.

An introductory adverb phrase has a comma after it to avoid confusion. This punctuation mark signals a pause before the reader gets into the author’s main message.

An introductory phrase is neither an independent nor dependent clause because it doesn’t have a subject or verb. There are several types of introductory phrases:

  • Prepositional phrase.
  • Appositive phrase.
  • Participial phrase.
  • Absolute phrase.

Here are some introductory phrase examples:

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  • Crying at the top of her lungs, Jessa tried to grab everyone’s attention.
  • Inside the cafeteria, you’ll find many desserts, drinks, and snacks.

Notice how the sentence structure follows an introductory phrase, a comma, then the main clause.

Introductory Phrase vs. Introductory Clause

An introductory clause is a dependent or subordinate clause that provides information for the main part of the sentence. This central part of the sentence is the independent clause.

Unlike an introductory adverbial phrase, the introductory clause has a subject and a verb.

Here are some introductory clause examples:

  • If you want to be part of the team, you should train daily.
  • Since it’s raining, I rescheduled our dinner date.

Notice how the sentence structure follows an introductory dependent clause, an intro comma, then the main clause.

How to Use a Comma with an Introductory Phrase

Take a look at the different types of introductory phrases and how to use them with commas.

Commas After Prepositional Phrases

A prepositional phrase is one that starts with a preposition. Some examples of prepositions include “about,” “inside,” “to,” “for,” “on,” “across,” etc.

Introductory prepositional or verbal phrases also have a comma before them. Having one will set it apart from the main part of the sentence.

But the comma policy may be different for some style guides. Others recommend removing introductory commas if the phrase is short.

Examples:

  • On the way to the carnival, we found several friends walking to the spot.
  • After drinking my cup of coffee, I usually go for a run and then have a heavier breakfast.
  • Underneath all this costume and makeup, I am a regular, introverted woman.

Commas After Infinitive Phrases

An infinitive phrase also has a comma after it and before the relevant sentence part. This phrase comprises the word “to” plus the basic verb form without an inflection.

Examples:

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  • To reach the bay, we have to pay an environmental fee.
  • To bake a cake, you need to buy more flour and food coloring.
  • To be a best-selling author, you need to know the interests of a twenty-first-century reader.

Commas After Participial Phrases

A participial phrase is a verb phrase that can start with the -ing form of the verb or its past participle.

Examples:

  • Having finished the book, many international readers are buying more books from the self-published author.
  • Opening her eyes, Janet saw her baby near the window.

Commas After Introductory Appositive Phrases

An appositive is any noun or a noun phrase that adds more information to the noun. It can also rename a nearby noun.

Examples:

  • An avid gamer, Shane instantly recognizes the sound from her childhood favorite video game.
  • An excellent mouser, my Persian cat caught the rat that had been in my house for three days.

Note that some words between commas are not appositives but sentence adverbs. Some common sentence adverbs include “really,” “fortunately,” and “apparently.”

Example:

  • Joshua is, surprisingly, only eighteen years old.

Commas After Introductory Absolute Phrases

An absolute phrase also adds extra information to the primary clause. This phrase offers more context about something happening or why it’s happening.

Example:

  • Ultimately shocked by his brother’s arrival, Dave jumped in excitement.
  • Though the sun is hiding, we shouldn’t cancel our reservation.

When Not to Use a Comma for Introductory Elements

Introductory phrases and clauses do not always require a comma, especially shorter phrases. Some people also mistake the subject of a sentence for an introductory element, even if it isn’t.

One of the many rules about commas is not to use one if the prepositional phrase is the subject of the sentence. Usually, it’s a single phrase with only five words or fewer.

Example:

  • To die by your side is such a heavenly way to die.
  • On average five out of ten students ride the bus to school (comma is optional).

Another punctuation advice is to not use a comma after a restrictive appositive phrase or when separating the subject and action.

Example:

  • Visiting the Maldives and seeing the Maafushi beach is my main goal.

Be careful not to remove a crucial comma as it might cause a potential for confusion.

Practice your Punctuation Prowess

An introductory phrase is a phrase that adds relevant information to the main clause. Practice using commas with introductory phrases to avoid the danger of confusion to readers.

Need more punctuation tips? You can also test your knowledge by taking the quiz.