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4.13. Punctuating within the Complex Sentence

A complex sentence is a minimal composition of two clauses, one is the basic element, whereas the other is a constituent or part of the first. The first one is called the main clause, the second one is the subordinate clause.

There are some rules of punctuating within the complex sentence which you should observe while writing:

(1) Use a comma to separate the introductory subordinate clause from the main clause.

When Tom awoke in the morning, he wondered where he was. (M. Twain)

While Joe was slicing bacon for breakfast, Tom and Huck asked him to hold on a minute; they stepped to a promising nook in the river-bank and threw in their lines; almost immediately they had reward. (M. Twain)

When he came back into the room, I was sitting in another machine. (E. Hemingway)

While the water was heating, Ma Parker began sweeping the floor. (K. Mansfield)

The comma is frequently omitted after very short subordinate clauses. But if its omission can cause misreading, you should use a comma.

Wherever Tom and Huck appeared they were courted, admired, stared at. (M. Twain) When he was in town their appeal to him was not very strong. (E. Hemingway)

But when he returned, home was not what it used to be.

As we expected, prices continued to rise throughout the year.

(2) Use a comma to set off subordinate clauses following the main clause and explaining, amplifying, or offering a contrast to it. Do not set off such clauses if they are closely related to the main clause.

The young lady in charge remembered it, because the message had excited her very much, mentioning, as it did, Sir Bartholomew Strange's death. (A. Christie)

He was a little grey man with long grey whiskers, who walked about by himself. (K. Mansfield)

The young Student was still lying on the grass, where she had left him, and the tears were not yet dry in his beautiful eyes. (0. Wilde)

Leaf after leaf of the fine gold the Swallow picked off, till the Happy Prince looked quite dull and grey. (0. Wilde)

B u t: A great actor does not cease to act because he is not on the stage any more. (A. Christie)

One morning the Giant was lying awake in bed when he heard some lovely music.(0. Wilde)

Every Sunday morning Ethel would read aloud while Ma Parker did her washing.(K. Mansfield)

She was a woman whose flowers were part of her life. (A. Christie)

(3) But sometimes we construct the complex sentence where the subordinate clause is in the middle of the main clause. In this case while punctuating it you should follow the rule above.

Mr. Satterthwaite, who had been looking at the door which had just closed behind the other two, gave a start as he turned to Poirot. (A. Christie)

Really, when I begin to reflect on the importance of my position, I am almost moved to tears. (0. Wilde)

The three weeks he spent on his back this time seemed an entire age. (M. Twain)

The only thing that sustains one through life is the consciousness of the immense inferiority of everybody else, and this is a feeling that I have always cultivated. (0. Wilde)