Placing commas correctly in sentences is tricky for most writers, as we don’t want our sentences to be very long with no pauses for our readers to take. But when we learn when and where to place commas, especially when using commas with conjunctions like but, and, because, so, if, and although, it makes our writing a bit easier.
When Do You Place a Comma Before But?
We place a comma before but when we are connecting two independent clauses.
- The dog is very old, but he’s still very active.
What are independent clauses?
Let’s take a look at the words that appear before and after the word but.
We’ll come up with two different sentences: “The dog is very old” and “he’s still very active”.
If these words or phrases can stand on their own as sentences and do not lose meaning, then they are independent clauses. All independent clauses have a noun (subject) and a verb (action), although sometimes the subject can be implied, like in the sentence “Run!” The subject is you and the verb is run, but you don’t need to write “you run!” when you can just write “run!”
Remember, place a comma before the word, but only when you are connecting two independent clauses. Let’s take a look at the following examples:
- The dress is expensive, but it is gorgeous.
- She is very noisy, but she’s also very smart.
- It’s an antique, but it’s selling for an extremely low price.
When we are connecting an independent clause and a phrase, we do not need to place a comma before but.
- The dog is very old but still active.
Phrases with no subject or verb
Let us look again at the words or phrases that appear before and after the word but.
We’ll come up with two different sentences: “The dog is very old” and “still very active.”
The words that come after the but form a phrase with no subject noun and cannot stand on their own as a sentence. We leave out the comma because, in order for the sentence to make sense, the phrase needs to be directly connected to an independent clause.
Let’s learn from the following examples below:
- The dress is expensive but gorgeous.
- She is very noisy but also very smart.
- It’s an antique but selling for an extremely low price.
When Do You Place a Comma After But?
We rarely place a comma after but. The only exception is when we place an interrupter. An interrupter is a little word or phrase that you insert into a sentence to create emphasis, tone, or emotion. An interrupter can be taken out of a sentence and the sentence will still retain its original meaning.
- But, of course, she can’t go on her own without a chaperone.
- But, surprisingly, he didn’t hold back when he shouted his anger.
- But, on some occasions, you just have to figure things out on your own.
In the sentences above, we have “on some occasions,” “of course,” and “surprisingly” as interrupters. Even if we take out the interrupter word or phrase the sentence will still keep its meaning. Interrupters are often used to make a point, modify a point you’re making, or give more context to the sentence. They aren’t necessary, and they should be used sparingly.
If your sentence has an interrupter after but, then go ahead and use the comma. If your sentence doesn’t have an interrupter, leave the comma out.
Commas are used to pace our sentences and our writing. We should only place a comma before but when we are joining together two sentences, otherwise, a comma is unnecessary.
But Wait … There’s More!
What do you think about this comma rule? Let us know in the comments below!
Want to learn more writing tips? Check out these articles:
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- Don’t Get Crippled by Crutch Words: How to Speak and Write More Effectively
Tom Corson-Knowles is the founder of TCK Publishing, and the bestselling author of 27 books including Secrets of the Six-Figure author. He is also the host of the Publishing Profits Podcast show where we interview successful authors and publishing industry experts to share their tips for creating a successful writing career.