A sentence from the dictionary of Merriam-Webster:

She's bringing in good money selling houses.

Why there is no comma before "selling houses"? "Money" is not the subject of the participle phrase "selling houses". As far as I know, when the participle phrase is put at the end of the sentence, and when the noun before it is not its subject, there should be a comma.

And another similar example:

Tom lost his keys walking through the park.

  • 3
    The clause "selling houses" is integrated into the structure of the clause rather than being supplemental, so there's no real need for a comma. The same apples to your other example. – BillJ Apr 12 '17 at 7:44
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    She's bringing in good money (by) selling houses. – SovereignSun Apr 12 '17 at 9:26
  • I guess the sentence could be also understood as "She's bringing in good money (while) selling houses.", while is omitted here. – ice Apr 12 '17 at 10:05

As far as I know, when the participle phrase is put at the end of the sentence, and when the noun before it is not its subject, there should be a comma.

Such "rules" are only tangentially related to grammar. Commas have evolved as a typographic convention for representing syntactic divisions of various sorts.

Consider the following sentence:

You can go blind doing that.

You're risking blindness doing that.

If we understand that sentence to mean "Doing that can cause you to go blind" then doing that is not something added onto the main idea but a necessary element of it. We could paraphrase the sentence:

Your eyes can be damaged by doing that. (e.g. by looking directly at a solar eclipse)

Now consider this sentence:

He walked down the street whistling a tune.

There you see that whistling a tune does not have the same relationship to "he walked down the street" that "doing that" had to "you can go blind". There is no causal relationship. We could paraphrase the sentence:

He was whistling a tune as he walked down the street.

In this case, a comma is much more likely, because "whistling a tune" is an added bit of information.

He walked down the street, whistling a tune.


This answer is to be seen as supplementary information to TRomano's excellent answer.

The thing to emphasise is that, in your situation, the use of commas is usually one of style, not grammar. The only situation like this where you would be forced into your choice of comma placement is when their inclusion or exclusion changes the meaning.

In TRomano's examples the meaning doesn't change with the inclusion/exclusion of commas, so you are free to choose (although the convention is as TRomano states; if in doubt, follow it). However, consider the following sentences:

He was clubbing baby seals. (he was beating baby seals with a club)

He was clubbing, baby seals. (baby seals are being told that he was in a nightclub)

Here, the meaning completely changes with the inclusion of a comma.

Another point about your two examples is that both "selling houses" and "walking through the park" could either be considered necessary parts of the clause (conventionally without a comma), or supplementary information (conventionally with a comma).

Taking the first example, if the intended meaning is she makes good money regardless of how, you might be more likely to add a comma as "selling houses" is additional information. However, if the intended meaning is that selling houses makes good money (for her), then "selling houses" is an intrinsic part of the information so you would be less likely to include a comma. However, as this difference in meaning is so subtle as to be non-existent, the choice to exclude a comma doesn't really make any difference.

Finally, in your first example, she is the subject of both parts of the sentence.

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