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An example from the Dartmouth page on relative clauses:

Was mich ärgert, ist, dass sie sich nicht entschuldigt hat.

Why is there a comma before the 'ist'? The comma before 'dass' makes sense (since it's the start of a relative clause), but I would think that 'ist' is part of the first clause.

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3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The sentence has the simple base structure

[subject] ist [object]. → verb is ist

The object is the clause

, dass sie sich nicht entschuldigt hat → verb is sich entschuldigt haben

The subject is the clause

Was mich ärgert, → verb is ärgern

All clauses need to be split from the main clause by commas, also the first one ending on ärgert.

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The first comma denotes the end of a dependent clause (I think it is called "open relative clause"). I'll rearrange the parts

Das, was mich ärgert, ist, dass sie...

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I just want to mention a rule of thumb:

Separate any clauses that contain a conjugated verb from each other with a comma.

In your example there are three conjugated verbs: "ärgert", "ist" and "hat". Hence, you need two commas.

Note, I'm not saying that you should blindly set a bunch of commas whenever you see two or more conjugated verbs. For instance, a comma may be replaced with a conjunction and then it'd be wrong to use a comma.

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