I would like to check the use of a comma in a report I am checking. Should the sentence (simplified) be:

  • In the tower, there is something of interest.
  • In the tower there is something of interest.
  • In the tower; there is something of interest.

Thanks in advance


I think the best choice would be no comma, but the comma could be acceptable. The semicolon is definitely incorrect, because semicolons are used to separate independent clauses, while "in the tower" is a prepositional phrase.


I know others here disagree with me, but I feel that the use of the comma is generally optional. Any "rules" that tell you otherwise are not entirely correct. Commas are used to mimic the pauses that occur when speaking, and so should be included when it feels natural to do so.

In your first two sentences, there is nothing wrong.

In your first two sentences there is nothing wrong.

However, the semicolon is different. Use semicolons as you would a full stop/period, to connect two complete sentences.

In your first two sentences there is nothing wrong; however, your third sentence is not grammatical.

  • There are places where adding a comma will increase clarity, and I suppose you could consider those commas optional (you're not going to be arrested for leaving them out, but you might be misunderstood). But there are also sentences which have different meanings with and without commas. "Eats, shoots and leaves" comes to mind.
    – Juhasz
    Oct 23 '18 at 16:23
  • @Juhasz Sure, or the infamous, "Let's eat grandma!", There are also cases where the comma is customary, and it looks weird to omit them. Still, writers such as Cormac McCarthy often write without punctuation, which is part of their unique style. Some of the sentences are difficult to parse, but you wouldn't say they are grammatically incorrect.
    – Andrew
    Oct 23 '18 at 17:31

If you use a comma, you are making a semantic decision to include a syntactically nonessential piece of information:

(In the tower,) there is something of interest.

In other words, you're saying:

There is something of interest. Oh, and it happens to be in the tower.

That's fine if that's the meaning you want to convey.

If that isn't what you want to convey, and you want the entire sentence to be syntactically essential, then you leave the comma out:

In the tower there is something of interest.

This version, too, is fine.

However, if you do want to convey everything as essential, I find the inversion to be a somewhat strange way of constructing the sentence.

Unless you are using the inversion for deliberate poetic effect, I would rephrase it:

There is something of interest in the tower.

But if it is being inverted for poetic effect, that's fine too. Notice the difference in mood between these two sentences:

In my heart the evil lurks.
The evil lurks in my heart.

Of course, going back to your sentence, you could leave the inverted order but also add some words to it so the question of a comma is never raised:

(It is) in the tower (that) there is something of interest.

In short, the comma is optional. But its use (or lack of use) will determine the specific meaning of the sentence.

An argument could be made for the use of the semicolon in your sentence. But it would be highly unusual.

With normal grammar, a semicolon separates independent clauses that could stand on their own as separate sentences. Here, that is not the case.

However, sentence fragments can be used if writing stylistically. This can mimic the way that Captain Kirk of Star Trek fame was known to speak:

Look! In the tower! There is something of interest.

So, in theory, if sentence fragments are allowed, then so could be the joining of one or more sentence fragments with a semicolon:

In the tower; there is something of interest.

Having said that, I can't recall anybody actually doing so and, pragmatically, this looks so bizarre and "wrong" that it would make far more sense to explicitly use sentence fragments (if you're going to at all) than to use a semicolon.

Not only is it simply "not done" to use a semicolon this way, but the point of sentence fragments is often the idea of dramatic pauses between parts of speech. Semicolons don't produce that same level of dramatic pause.

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