Should you use a comma before or after but? “But” can be a tricky operative. You can place a comma before but or write the word without any comma. How you utilize the word “but” in a sentence determines if a comma is necessary before or after the word.
Comma Before or After But?
Comma Before But | Independent Clauses
Rule #1: Always use a comma to join two independent clauses together before a conjunction like “but.”
What is an independent clause? Simply stated an independent clause is a sentence. An independent clause represents a complete thought.
I played with the duck.
“I played with a duck.” depicts a sentence. This specific sentence has a subject, verb, and object. It is an independent clause because it can stand alone in a sentence. It does not require additional information to form a complete thought.
The diner is open.
“The diner is open.” is another independent clause. This independent clause does not contain an object like the above example. Independent clauses only require a subject and verb. An object does not have to be in an independent clause.
“But”, “as”, “and”, and “or” are conjunctions. You can use conjunctions to link two independent clauses together.
- I played with the duck, but he was mean.
- The diner is open, but they do not have any customers.
Place a comma before a conjunction like “but” when connecting two independent clauses. To check if you are joining two independent clauses together remove the conjunction. See if the two remaining clauses can form two distinct sentences. If they do, add a comma before “but” to provide a pause in the sentence.
No Comma | Dependent Clauses
Rule #2: If conjunction links an independent and dependent clause no comma is necessary.
What is a dependent clause? A dependent clause is not a structured thought. It is a part of a sentence. A dependent clause adds more information to a sentence, but it cannot function on its own accord.
You can use a conjunction to join an independent and dependent clause.
- I love candy but not smarties.
- I enjoy movies but not bad ones.
“I love candy” is the independent clause and “not smarties” is the dependent clause. The conjunction “but” joins the two clauses together. There is no need to place a comma before but because both clauses are not independent.
The second example in the set uses “but” to join the dependent and independent clauses. Because “I enjoy movies” is an independent clause and “not bad ones” is not, you do not apply a comma.
The Comma After But
Rule #3: Use a comma after “but” to show emphasis.
Seeing a comma after “but” is unusual but grammatically correct. More often you will come across a comma before but or see but without a comma than observe the comma after the word.
So when do we place a comma after “but”? A writer may choose to place a comma after “but” for effect. The comma works to interrupt the flow of language. This is done deliberately to underscore the inclusion of the word. Overuse of “but” followed by a comma decreases the potency of the comma. It should not appear more than once, maybe twice, in a text.
But, he was getting worse.
“But,” at the beginning of the sentence exists for literary effect. In this specific case, it adds a bit of drama and apprehension. The comma after “but” acts as an interrupter. It causes a break in the sentence to emphasize the words that follow.
A comma after “but” offsets the text from the rest of the sentence. Because the first example places “but” at the beginning of a sentence, a comma only follows “but” and does not precede the word. If you were emphasizing the text in any other position of the sentence, the comma would precede and follow “but”.
No one was home, but, the sound was coming from the attic.
In this sentence, the comma precedes and follows the word “but.” It highlights the word “but” to emphasize the peculiarity of the situation.
In everyday writing choose to put a comma before but if joining two independent clauses. Do not add a comma when joining an independent clause to a dependent one with “but”. Do not use a comma after “but” in regular sentences.
If you do use commas before and after “but” use them sparingly and deliberately.
Comma Before or After But | Infographic
Rules for Using a Comma Before or After But
Last Updated on October 22, 2023
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