A Complete Guide to Using Commas with Adverbs

We will discuss when to use and when to avoid a comma before or after a regular adverb, a sentence adverb, an adverbial clause, and an adverbial phrase.

We will discuss when to use and when to avoid a comma before or after a regular adverb, a sentence adverb, an adverbial clause, and an adverbial phrase.

  1. REGULAR ADVERBS modify a single word of a sentence. This word can be a verb, an adjective, or another adverb. (e.g., “John is very tall.”). Regular adverbs are commonly divided into these categories:
    • Time and frequency (e.g., today, early, always, sometimes, monthly, etc.)
    • Place (e.g., here, there, away, up, across, etc.)
    • Manner (e.g., quietly, impatiently, quickly, etc.)
    • Degree (e.g., very, almost, extremely, etc.)
  2. SENTENCE ADVERBS are different from regular adverbs. Sentence adverbs do not modify a single word; instead, they describe a whole sentence or clause (e.g., Honestly, I don’t think you should do it.”). We can differentiate three main groups of sentence adverbs:
    • Adverbs of opinion express the opinion, attitude, or judgement of the person making an observation. (e.g., Fortunately, Olivia chose the right man to marry.”)
    • Contextual adverbs help us place a sentence or clause in a particular context. Alphabetically, technically, politically, generally, etc. are some examples of this group (e.g., Technically, the project design is consistent.”)
    • Conjunctive adverbs are used to connect two ideas or thoughts. "However", "specifically", or "moreover" are some examples (e.g., “I love playing tennis. However, my favorite sport is football.”)
  3. ADVERBIAL CLAUSES are groups of words that contain a subject and a verb and provide a description of when, where, why, how, or to what extent something happens. (e.g., “John ordered a pizza because he was hungry.”)
  4. ADVERBIAL PHRASES are groups of words without a subject and a verb that function as an adverb (e.g., “He played video games before lunch.”). There are three main groups of adverbial phrases:
    • Prepositional phrases start with a preposition (e.g., “I met her in Chicago.”)
    • Infinitive phrases (introduced by "to + infinitive") can be used to express why something happens (e.g., “he does it to win.”)
    • Participle phrases have a participle as the head word. While participle phrases are typically considered adjectival, they can also carry an adverbial meaning, expressing how, when, where, why, or how often something happens. (e.g., Exiting a parking lot, John had an accident.”)

1. Commas With Regular Adverbs

We do not typically place a comma to separate a regular adverb from the word (verb, adjective, or another adverb) it describes.

They are extremely talented.

They are extremely, talented.

There is an exception to this convention of not using a comma between an adverb and the word it modifies; we always place a comma to separate two instances of the same adverb for emphasis.

Today is very, very hot.

When modifying an adjective or adverb, regular adverbs come immediately before the adjective or adverb. When modifying a single verb, we can place the adverb near the verb, but we don’t have to; thus, we can say:

Sometimes she can be highly sensitive.

She can sometimes be highly sensitive.

She can be highly sensitive sometimes.

Comma use with regular adverbs

1.1 Adverbs of time and frequency

Frequently placed at the end of a sentence, single-word adverbs of time are seldom preceded by a comma.

My sister arrived late.

You can also place an adverb of time at the beginning of a sentence, as a transition word, to help the reader move from one thought to the next. Transition words are typically followed by a comma; but the comma can be easily dropped with single-word adverbs of time.

Now I need to go to the bathroom.

Yesterday we went to the movies.

First I’ll go to the doctor; then I’ll visit my father.

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

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

When using dates, place a comma after the day of the week, the day of the month, and the year.

I went to Boston on Friday, September 25, 2020, to visit my father.

But do not insert a comma between the month and the day of the month; they are considered a single unit in English.

I met my girlfriend on July 14.

You can find more examples and learn more about commas with adverbs of time by following the links below:

Adverbs of frequency often go before the main verb, between the auxiliary and the verb, or after the verb to be.

I seldom go to the movies.

They are frequently used for statistical purposes.

You can also place an adverb of frequency at the beginning of a sentence—frequently followed by a comma.

Occasionally, incidents of physical violence against travelers are reported.

Frequently, demonstrations are caused by a distrust in institutions.

The comma is not necessary, however, if the adverb is a regular adverb (modifying a single word of the sentence).

In very formal language, you can start a sentence with a negative adverb of frequency, such as "hardly ever", "rarely" or "seldom". When we do this, we put the verb before the subject—with no comma.

Seldom have I seen such a pristine natural environment.

Follow these links to find more examples and learn more about commas with adverbs of frequency:

1.2 Adverbs of place

Similarly, we do not generally use a comma to separate an adverb of place from the verb it modifies.

Your keys are here.

Your keys are, here.

But insert commas to separate the different elements of a location (street address, city, and state).

The store is located at 124 5th Street, San Diego, California.

1.3 Adverbs of manner

Adverbs of manner are typically found at the end of a sentence or clause,

My wife likes to drive slowly.

They occasionally follow the verb (without commas).

I slept badly last night.

We can also start a sentence with an adverb of manner followed by a comma. The comma signals that the adverb describes the whole sentence. But it is unnecessary if the adverb describes a single word.

Quickly my enemy opened the door.

1.4 Adverbs of degree

When starting a sentence with an adverb of degree, you can use a comma to clarify, add emphasis, or signal that the adverb describes the complete sentence that follows.

Largely, the audience was composed of scientists and engineers.

However, adverbs of degree typically appear before the verb, adjective, or adverb they modify. In this position, a comma is generally unnecessary, and sometimes wrong.

My driveway was completely frozen.

2. Commas With Sentence Adverbs

While regular adverbs modify a single word, sentence adverbs describe a complete sentence or clause to express when, where, how, or why something happens. Look at this example.

Frankly, I would like to arrive early.

In the example above, the regular adverb “early” modifies a single word of the sentence (“arrive”). By contrast, the sentence adverb “frankly” is not attached to a single word. It can be viewed as a brief commentary of the speaker that applies to the sentence as a whole.

Comma use with sentence adverbs

Sentence adverbs can be grouped into three categories:

  • Opinion adverbs are used to express the speaker’s opinion or attitude. Frankly, fortunately, naturally, or sadly are some examples of this type of adverbs.
  • Contextual adverbs help us place a statement in a particular context. Contextual adverbs can be used:
    • to indicate that a description or thought is related to a particular technique, skill, system, or area of expertise (e.g., technically, financially, medically, scientifically, alphabetically, etc.) These adverbs can be followed by the word "speaking" (e.g., "technically speaking", "medically speaking", etc.)
    • to contextualize a sentence in terms of perspective (e.g., generally, hypothetically, stylistically, structurally, etc.)
  • Conjunctive adverbs are used to connect two complete ideas or thoughts. Common conjunctive adverbs are "however", “therefore”, “similarly”, “indeed”, etc.

2.1 Opinion adverbs and contextual adverbs

Since opinion adverbs and contextual adverbs are not attached to any particular word of the sentence, they often come at the beginning of a sentence or clause, and are followed by a comma.

Sadly, the failure of those social programs is leaving a negative impact on our community.

Sadly the failure of those social programs is leaving a negative impact on our community.

The comma signals that the sentence adverb modifies (describes) the complete sentence that follows.

Economically, the project is not viable and does not build a realistic revenue model.

In the middle of a sentence, they should be surrounded by commas.

My son, hopefully, will pass the math test.

There is something wrong, psychologically speaking, with her behavior.

Some adverbs can function as regular adverbs and also as sentence adverbs—although they cannot perform both functions at the same time. In general, use commas to set off sentence adverbs and avoid them with regular adverbs. Compare:

Rebecca rejected my kiss, sadly. (“sadly” describes the speaker’s emotion.)

Rebecca rejected my kiss sadly. (“sadly” describes how Rebecca rejected the kiss.)

To decide whether to use a comma before or after the contextual adverbs "technically", "financially", "scientifically", "medically", etc., you can mentally add the word "speaking". If the sentence makes sense, use commas. Avoid them if it does not.

She has been tortured psychologically.

In the example above, "psychologically" cannot be followed by the word "speaking"; it clearly modifies a single word ("tortured"), so no comma.

You can find more examples and learn more about commas and contextual adverbs by following the links below:

You can find more examples and learn more about commas and opinion adverbs by following the links below:

2.2 Conjunctive adverbs

Conjunctive adverbs are one more type of adverb that can function as sentence adverbs.

At the start of a sentence, a conjunctive adverb should be followed by a comma (and preceded by a period or a semicolon).

Olivia worked really hard; therefore, she got the promotion.

In the middle of a sentence, you can use a conjunctive adverb to interrupt the sentence flow (rather than join two clauses). In such a situation, skip the commas if you are not stressing a pause or indicating a strong interruption.

The teacher therefore decided to give him another lesson.

Some conjunctive adverbs, such as “however”, almost always signal a strong interruption and should be enclosed by commas in mid-sentence.

Using commas with adverbs, however, is not always easy.

Other conjunctive adverbs, typically used to introduce a series of items or include nonessential information, should also be placed between commas in mid-sentence.

Blueberries, for example, are packed with antioxidants and a rich source of vitamin C.

This is a partial list of conjunctive adverbs. You can find more examples and information about using commas with conjunctive adverbs by following the links below.

3. Commas With Adverbial Clauses

An adverbial clause is a group of words containing a subject and a verb that plays the role of an adverb (by describing where, when, why, how, or to what extent something happens).

I ordered a salad because I want to lose weight.

Adverbial clauses always begin with a subordinating conjunction, such as "while", "when", "because", "if", "since", "although", "until", etc., and must connect to an independent clause to make sense.

Although I don't enjoy spicy food, I went to a Thai restaurant last Friday.

Comma use with adverbial clauses

Subordinating conjunctions, unlike adverbs, cannot be moved around the clause. Subordinating conjunctions always go at the beginning of a clause. However, the adverbial clause itself can precede or follow the main clause; thus, you can say:

Alice passed the exam because she motivated herself to study hard.

Because she motivated herself to study hard, Alice passed the exam.

When starting a sentence with an adverbial clause, add a comma after it.

When John went to jail, he lost everything.

If an adverbial clause follows the independent clause (main clause), a comma before the subordinating conjunction is frequently unnecessary.

Call me if you need anything.

But there are exceptions to this convention of not using a comma if the independent clause comes first. When there is a strong contrast between the two parts of a sentence, use a comma for clauses introduced by although, even though, though, and whereas.

The player was really sad, although he had won the championship.

This is a partial list of subordinating conjunctions. Follow their links to learn more about how to use commas with these constructions:

4. Commas With Adverbial Phrases

Unlike clauses, phrases do not have a subject and a verb. They are groups of two or more words functioning as a meaningful unit within a sentence.

My husband is at home.

The most common adverbial phrases can be categorized into three groups:

  • Adverbial prepositional phrases start with a preposition (e.g., “at home”, “on the table”, “next morning”, etc.)
  • Infinitive phrases are introduced by the pair "to + verb" (e.g., “to win”, “to play tennis”, etc.)
  • Participle phrases contain a word derived from a verb (e.g., “using a hammer”, "preparing dinner", etc.)
Comma use with adverbial phrases

4.1 Adverbial Prepositional Phrases

At the beginning of a sentence, an adverbial prepositional phrase should be followed by a comma in the following situations:

  • when a series of coordinate phrases introduce the sentence (e.g., In the North of Spain, near the Cantabrian Sea, the evergreen hills face the blue ocean.”)
  • to avoid confusion (e.g., Last Wednesday, morning classes were cancelled.”)
  • to stress a pause (e.g., In Southeast Asia, the mighty Mekong River connects China, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.”)
  • if the introductory phrase is followed by a subordinate clause (e.g., In winter, when the temperature falls, I enjoy a warm mug of cocoa for dessert.”)

If an introductory phrase starts with a preposition and the sentence is clear, the comma is optional. However, the longer the introductory phrase, the more likely you will find a comma after it.

Under a pile of dirty clothes, we found the old book.

Some writers use a comma after prepositional phrases of five or more words.

When in town we always dress for dinner.

After a long and exceptionally hot summer in Florida, we decided to move to New York.

But do not use a comma to separate two cumulative phrases ("at the beginning" and "of the story" in the example below).

At the beginning of the story, the teacher falls in love like a teenager.

At the beginning, of the story, the teacher falls in love like a teenager.

The comma should also be avoided if a verb immediately follows the phrase.

Between the hotel and the bank is the best restaurant in town.

In the middle or at the end of a sentence, we do not frequently use commas to separate an adverbial prepositional phrase from the rest of the sentence.

There is an excellent Chinese restaurant near the hotel.

There are particular situations, however, where commas may be required in mid-sentence. For example, use commas to:

  • include parenthetical information
  • add emphasis or stress a pause
  • clarify the meaning of long or complex sentences
  • include a series of coordinate phrases
  • separate a conjunction introducing an independent clause

I often go to dinner to a fancy restaurant, in the heart of downtown, near the Millennium Park, and enjoy a delicious meal with my friends.

This is a partial list of commonly used prepositional adverbial phrases. Follow their links to find more examples and learn more about commas with these constructions:

4.2 Adverbial Infinitive Phrases

The construction "to + verb" (e.g., to walk, to fly, to look, etc.) can be used to introduce an adverbial infinitive phrase.

Alice went outside to get fresh air.

When starting a sentence with an adverbial infinitive phrase, we generally add a comma after it.

To find your keys, retrace your steps and try to figure out where you lost them.

But you can omit the comma if the introductory phrase is short (no more than three or four words), the sentence is clear, and it does not require a pause.

To win at Monopoly buy as much as you can.

Commas are typically unnecessary in the middle or at the end of a sentence.

I went to Japan to expand my Japanese skills.

But they may be required in particular situations. For example, use commas to separate a series of coordinate phrases.

I went to Chicago to help my brother, to visit my friends, and to explore the Field Museum of Natural History.

4.3 Adverbial Participle Phrases

Participles themselves (e.g., “playing” or “played”) can function as adjectives, but not adverbs.

Rebecca is confused.

But a participle phrase can function as an adverb.

Using a quantitative research, she tested the influence of consumer brand engagement.

When a long introductory phrase (five or more words) contains a participial form, add a comma after it.

Hearing about the new strategy of the company, many investors decided to withdraw their investment.

If the introductory phrase is short and the sentence is clear, the comma after an adverbial participle phrase is optional.

Driven by ambition she always tries to bring improvement around her.

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