Welcome back fellow wordsmiths to another post of Reed’s Writing Corner. For the last few weeks, I’ve been beefing up on my comma usage. In my last post, I looked at independent clauses and how to link them with and a comma and FANBOYS. But what about dependent clauses? How do you deal with incomplete phrases that lack all the components to stand on their own?

First, what exactly is a dependent clause and how do you identify them?

A dependent clause is a group of words that contains a subject and verb but does not express a complete thought. A dependent clause cannot be a sentence. Often a dependent clause is marked by a dependent marker word.

Purdue Online Writing Lab

Okay, so a dependent clause is incomplete and does not express a complete idea on its own, it’s not a sentence – it’s one of those fragments MS Word is always dinging me on. It also comes with markers called subordinating conjunctions that help us identify them.

Here is an example: While Reed was eager to get to his next post . . .

See how drastically the use of a subordinating conjunction changes an independent clause to a dependent clause, this is called subordination. By adding “while” to the beginning of the sentence, it is no longer complete and has become dependent on something else to finish the thought. To complete this dependent clause you would follow it by a comma and then an independent clause.

Here is the finished sentence: While Reed was eager to get to his next post, he knew he was not going to be able to finish it on time. 

An important thing to remember about dependent clauses and comma usage is that it only applies when the dependent clause starts the sentence as seen in the example above. When the sentence begins with an independent clause followed by subordinating conjunction and then the dependent clause, no comma is used.

They will look like this:  Reed knew he was not going to be able to finish on time even though he was eager to get to his next post.

So yes, sometimes even dependent clauses need a comma, but not always. Look for the placement of the subordinating conjunction to decided. If the sentence leads with the subordinating conjunction then a comma is required. If the sentence leads with an independent clause followed by a subordination conjunction than no comma is necessary.

Here is a list to help spot those dependent clauses.

Common Subordinating Conjunctions
as (as if)
even though
in order that
rather than
so that

Happy writing!