Commas With Adverbs of Time and Frequency

We do not generally use a comma to separate a regular adverb of time from the rest of the sentence. But you can use commas to set off nonessential information, add long introductory phrases, avoid confusion, or stress a pause.

We do not generally use a comma to separate a regular adverb of time from the rest of the sentence.

I went to Chicago yesterday.

But you can use commas to set off nonessential information, add long introductory phrases, avoid confusion, or stress a pause.

I went to San Francisco, three days ago, to visit my mother.

1. A Quick Review of Time Adverbs and Adverbial Phrases

1.1 The Basics

Adverbs of time or frequency tells us when, how often, or for how long something happens.

Olivia left early.

He often practices yoga.

It is starting to rain now.

You can also use an adverbial phrase of time to describe when, how often, or how long something happens.

I went to Chicago ten days ago.

1.2 Single-word Time Adverbs

The most common single-word time adverbs can be categorized as follows:

  • Points of time (definite): today, tomorrow, yesterday, now, then, tonight, etc.
  • Relationships in time (indefinite): finally, next, yet, before, early, earlier, later, late, lately, still, soon, since, recently, previously, already, first, formerly, just, last, etc.
  • Frequency
    • Definite: annually, yearly, monthly, weekly, daily, hourly, quarterly, etc.
    • Indefinite: always, sometimes, constantly, regularly, usually, often, seldom, ever, never, generally, frequently, infrequently, occasionally, rarely, normally, etc.

1.3 Adverbial Phrases of Time

A few examples of frequently used adverbial phrases of time are listed below:

  • this year, next month, last week, etc.
  • in 2019, ten days ago, on Tuesday, etc.
  • every week, twice a day, on Friday afternoons, etc.
  • for five years, for three weeks, for two hours, etc.
  • all the time, every once in a while, from time to time, etc.

1.4 Location

Adverbs of frequency are commonly used in front of the main verb, after the auxiliary, or after the verb to be.

I seldom go to the mall. (Before the main verb)

I have often heard this melody. (After the first auxiliary)

She is always tired. (After the verb to be)

Other adverbs of time usually go at the end of a clause or sentence.

She arrived late.

But you can place an adverb of time at the start of a sentence when it is of particular significance to express the moment something happened.

Soon we'll have to deal with the issue.

Adverbs of time can also appear in mid-sentence.

She wanted to visit the dentist tomorrow, before the meeting with the Tourism Secretary.

2. How to Use Commas With Time Adverbs

2.1 Regular Adverbs of Time

Single-word adverbs of time are often regular adverbs; that is, they typically modify a single word (verb, adjective, or another adverb) of the sentence.

She called yesterday.

I've been to Thailand for three weeks.

In the middle or at the end of a sentence, we do not commonly use a comma to separate single-word adverbs from the rest of the sentence.

We go out for Thai food weekly.

I often go to the movies.

You should change your password regularly.

But use commas to add an aside, create a parenthetical feel, or introduce an interruption in the middle or at the end of a sentence.

Every day, after the sun goes down, I play the guitar.

As mentioned above, adverbs of frequency are typically placed before the main verb, after the first auxiliary, or after the verb to be. We do not generally use a comma after "still", "often", or other adverbs of frequency when placed in front of a verb.

I still need your help.

I often go to New York.

At the beginning of a sentence we can add a comma after a frequency adverb. This comma is optional.

Frequently, Olivia visits her mother at the retirement home.

In very formal situations or literary language, we can start a sentence with a negative adverb of frequency, like "rarely", "hardly ever", or "seldom". In this particular context, we place the auxiliary verb before the subject—with no comma.

Seldom have I seen such a beautiful and strong horse.

Recommended: Commas with dates and time intervals

2.2 Time Adverbs as Transition Words

We can also use adverbs of time as transition words, at the beginning of a sentence or clause, to help us move from one thought to the next.

Emma will visit her mother; then she'll go to the dentist.

While commas follow most transition words, you can omit them with single-word adverbs of time.

Now I need to go to the grocery store.

Tomorrow I will go to Miami.

First I'll visit Paris; then I'll go to Rome.

However, we should insert a comma after first, second, etc. to give directions or introduce a series of items.

First, rinse the rice; second, bring the water to boil; third, get a steady simmer.

2.3 Introductory Phrases of Time

In general, we should follow an introductory phrase with a comma.

After considering their main comments, he presented a final report to the commission.

Having finally arrived in town, we went to a park for kids.

But the comma is optional if the introductory phrase is brief (less than three or four words) and clear.

When in town we enjoy going to the movies.

Similarly, using commas after "in the meantime" or "meanwhile" are optional.

My sister was playing tennis. Meanwhile I was cleaning the whole house.

But use a comma to stress a pause or avoid confusion.

Our daughter was watching a TV show. In the meantime, we were having dinner at a Chinese restaurant.

Generally, it is unnecessary to add a comma after "this week", "last week", "next week", "last month", etc. at the start of a sentence.

Next week we'll go to Madrid.

Last year we were dealing with financial issues.

As mentioned above, add a comma to signal a strong interruption or clarify, particularly when using longer sentences.

Last month, women were experiencing higher levels of unemployment in the US.

Place also a comma if the introductory time phrase is followed by a dependent clause.

Next Sunday, if it rains, we can always move the party inside.

2.4 Other Adverbial Phrases of Time

In the middle or at the end of a sentence, we do not commonly use commas to set off adverbial phrases of time.

He practices Japanese as often as possible.

She arrived in time because I told her that the meeting was important.

No one knew about his artwork until recently.

My husband will arrive in an hour.

But there are situations where you may need to enclose an adverbial phrase of time in commas; specifically, add a comma before and after the phrase to:

  • add parenthetical (nonessential) information,
  • signal a strong interruption, or
  • avoid confusion.

We met, after raining, to play tennis.

Note that the essential part of the sentence above is "We met to play tennis". The phrase "after raining" gives us more information about "when", but it is not essential—it is introduced as an aside.

Let's consider another example:

They left the meeting, just before us, to fulfill other commitments.

Note that without the phrase "to fulfill other commitments", the adverbial phrase "just before us" would become essential in the sentence, so no comma in this case:

They left the meeting just before us.

We can also use the possessive case with time phrases to describe that something is connected to a particular period of time. Follow the same comma rules with sentences like these.

Have you read my article in today's newspaper?

She gave me a month’s time to raise the money.

2.5 Adverbial Subordinate Clauses of Time

Unlike phrases, a clause contains a subject and a verb.

I play with water toys in puddles when it rains.

Adverbial subordinate clauses are dependent clauses functioning as adverbs.

When the sun goes down and temperature drops, I seek refuge.

If a dependent clause comes before an independent clause, we add a comma after the dependent clause; thus, add a comma after the first clause when starting a sentence by a subordinating conjunction, such as "until", "since", "while", or "when".

Before it starts raining, we should leave.

When it rains on the eastern side of the island, people wear boots.

If an independent clause precedes a dependent one, placing a comma between both clauses is generally unnecessary.

Olivia has worked for this company since she moved to Chicago.

I take a shower before I go to work.

3. Lists of Commonly Used Adverbs

3.1 Adverbs of Time and Commas

This is a partial list of commonly used adverbs of time. You can find more examples and information about how to use commas with them by following the links below:

3.2 Adverbs of Frequency and Commas

You can find more examples and information about how to use commas with these adverbs of frequency by following the links below:

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