More on the Prepositional Phrase at the Beginning of the Sentence

Margie Wakeman Wells The Comma 8 Comments

We said earlier that a short prepositional phrase at the beginning of a sentence that is just a simple modifier does NOT take a comma. Let’s look at what prepositional phrases do take a comma.

RULE: Put a comma after a “long” prepositional phrase. (Though there is no set number of words to necessarily count, the dividing line is somewhere around five words.)

…In the very late afternoon that day, we were…
…During the intercontinental missile crisis, the U.S. was…

RULE: Put a comma after two prepositional phrases. (There are times when these might be modifying separately and be punctuated differently, but we will deal with that at another time.)

…On the day of the accident, I left…
…In the light of day, we could see…

RULE: Put a comma after a prepositional phrase that has a comma inside it.

…On many, many occasions, she was not…
…At the very, very least, he needs…

Stay tuned for more.

Happy punctuating.



Comments 8

  1. Margie, in your original posting about short prepositional phrases at the beginning of sentences, I asked a question, but you haven’t answered it. Now you’ve started a new thread and are expanding on the original topic.

    Wouldn’t it seem more efficient to answer my question in the original thread, and then, if you choose, to enlarge upon this topic in that original thread?

    Question: Is there no email notification when you respond to those who inquire here?

    My dear friend, I’m kinda frustrated here. Interesting topics are being started in this nice blog of yours, people are commenting and asking questions, but you don’t seem to be responding, almost as if you aren’t seeing our input here. Having to come here, scroll down, pick a topic, then scroll down to see if there is any new content or commentary– well, that does get a bit tedious.

    Not complaining, Margie; I’m simply trying to point out a few things that you may not be aware of.

    1. Have set aside some time tomorrow to go back and get caught up. Probably wasn’t a good idea for me to launch this when I was traveling.

      I have talked to my web guy to see what we can do about this!!!

      Happy punctuating.


    2. Post

      The good news is that in a few weeks I will have an app, a free app, that will “ding” when there is a posting. Just a learning process, I am thinking. I don’t really know whether people always go back to check. That is what is maddening about FB and the others, I think. I just don’t have time to go back to each post that I make.

      P.S. This is the next installment on prepositional phrases. There will be more.

  2. Dear Margie,

    Thank you so much for being there for us!

    I have been looking for a grammar resource I can trust for the longest time, but looking at Barnes and Noble and online has just made me ten times more confused.

    It has been my plan to reread the notes from the classes I took with you, but quite frankly, just opening that thick stack of dusty notebooks has proven to be an insurmountable challenge.

    This blog is perfect! Short, painless, and to-the-point!

    I am so happy to have a place to turn to for help I can trust!

    1. Post

      You might want to check out my book: “Court Reporting: Bad Grammar/Good Punctuation.” There are samples of it here on my website.

  3. Hi, Margie.

    RULE: Put a comma after a “long” prepositional phrase. (Though there is no set number of words to necessarily count, the dividing line is somewhere around five words.)

    …In the very late afternoon that day, we were…

    Then how would you treat the responses below if they were given in answer to the question “What did you do that day?”

    “That day we were going to the store.”


    “That day, we were going to the store.”

    It seems to me that the first example reads like an introduction to a sentence that never arrived at its logical conclusion, and the second example identifies the particular day (“that day”) in question (“that day”).

  4. I agree with James. The rules of traditional grammar state that a comma always follows a prepositional phrase that begins a sentence. “That day we were going to the store.” should read “That day, we were going to the store.” unless the phrase and clause are functioning together as the subject: “That day we were going to the store was really rainy.”

    A question I have, though, is how to punctuate sentences that begin with a prepositional phrase followed by a subordinate clause such as: “As always, if there is ever anything you’d like to discuss in more detail, please…,” or is it: “As always if there is anything you’d like to discuss in more detail, please…”?

    1. Post

      “That day” is not a prepositional phrase. It has no preposition. Because it is so short, it does not need a comma. The subject and verb are “we” and “were going.” So the words “that day” just don’t fall into the phrase of subject/verb category.

      Again, “as always” is also not a prepositional phrase. It is a clause that has the subject and verb missing, called an “elliptical clause.” Yes, there is a comma here.

      There is no way to give an “always” rule to your question. It depends on the relationship between the phrase and the clause.

      …On the day when you are home…
      …On Monday, when you are home…

      Hope this helps.


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