1

Could someone please provide clarification regarding the comma in the sentence below? I thought that participle clauses did not require a comma unless they began the sentence (e.g. "Despite having read the article several times, the student was unable to express the author's main point").

The student was unable to express the author's main point, despite having read the article several times.

3

If the participle clause relates to the last item in the main clause, no comma is required. In the following sentence, for example, the participle clause applies to "dog".

He watched the dog wagging its tail

If the participle clause refers to something earlier in the sentence, a comma is required. In this sentence, for example, the participle clause relates to "the student".

The student was unable to understand the author's main point, finding the whole article virtually unintelligible.

See here for more information.

In your sentence, despite is a preposition, so it's actually a prepositional phrase. Check out rule 8, which states that a comma is required if a phrase of any kind refers back to the beginning or middle of the sentence. Your example is therefore correctly punctuated, because the prepositional phrase refers back to the student.

The student was unable to express the author's main point, despite having read the article several times.

  • How about this sentence? The student was unable to express the author's main point, despite the main point being quite straightforward. Here, since the PP refers back to the end of the main clause, should the comma be removed or at least optional? – JK2 Apr 5 '18 at 5:07
  • @JK2: I agree that the comma should be optional, butit is quite a long prepositional phrase and I think the comma makes it more understandable. You could actually shorten the PP by making it "despite its being quite straighforward". – JavaLatte Apr 5 '18 at 11:37

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