A comma is a vital punctuation mark that helps the writer to clearly and effectively communicate their ideas. However, there is often confusion about the proper placement of a comma as regards the word “but.”
Should there be a comma before or after “but”?
Well, it depends. If certain conditions are met, it is grammatically correct to use a comma before or after “but.”
For example, if you are linking two independent clauses and you need to demonstrate a pause, you should use a comma before but.
Although it’s less common to use a comma after “but,” it is correct if a condition is also met. So, in this article, I’ll outline these conditions and give plenty of examples in which commas come before and after but.
Is The Comma Before Or After But Necessary?
Let us delve deeper into the two conditions:
A comma before “but” is typically used when the conjunction connects two independent clauses in a sentence and the writer wants to show a pause between the two. This means that the comma should only be used when the two clauses each have their own subject and verb.
For example, we have “he wanted to go for a walk” and “he received an important call from his office” as two independent clauses that can be used to form a sentence. So, we write:
- “He wanted to go for a walk, but he received an important call from his office.”
In this case, the comma marks a shift in the sentence’s meaning by separating the two clauses.
This use of the comma before “but” is supported by several established style guides, including The Chicago Manual of Style and The Associated Press Stylebook. According to these guides, the comma should be placed before “but” only when the condition I previously stated is met (when but is used to connect two independent clauses in a sentence).
One advantage of using a comma before “but” is that it makes the relationship between the two clauses clearer. The reader can easily distinguish between the two ideas presented when the clauses are separated with a comma.
However, some writers and grammarians still argue that placing a comma before “but” can make the sentence seem choppy and detract from its flow. Others also argue that such commas are just unnecessary stops that make it harder for the reader to understand the relationship between the two clauses.
Examples of a Comma Before But
The following are sentences with a comma before “but”:
- They were running out of time, but they managed to finish and submit the project with time to spare.
- The train was hit with several delays, but they arrived at their destination eventually.
- He wanted to take the day off, but he had too much work to do so he stayed even after everyone had gone.
- They were out of gas, but they found a gas station down the road.
- The museum was crowded by the time they arrived, but they managed to see everything.
- They were lost in the vast desert, but they found their way back using their GPS device.
- She was hesitant at first, but she knew she had to take the risk.
- The house got so hot, but he didn’t want to go inside.
- The song was catchy, but it got stuck in his head.
- They wanted to go camping, but it poured unceasingly all weekend.
A comma after “but” is often used to separate two clauses in a sentence where one provides a contrast or exception to the other. For example, “The weather was sunny today, but, as you know, this is the rainy season, so it might pour suddenly.” The comma helps separate the two ideas because there seems to be an exception.
We could also use it in the following sentence:
- “He promised that he would always be there, but, of course, no one expected him to fulfill this promise.”
One advantage of using a comma after “but” is that it creates a smooth transition and the sentence flows nicely, making it easy for the reader to understand. The comma provides a turn that clarifies the relationship between the two clauses and makes it clear that one is contrasting the other.
However, in some situations, a comma after “but” can make the sentence seem too casual or informal.
Examples of a Comma After But
- The restaurant was recommended, but, to our surprise, the food was not good.
- He wanted to call it a day, but, unfortunately, he had one more task to complete.
- He thought he knew all the answers, but, unbeknownst to him, all his answers were wrong.
- She lost a lot of money during the recession, but, luckily enough, she had saved some before the economic downturn.
- She was nervous, but, in the end, she managed to deliver a great performance.
- The trip was long, but, of course, I knew that great rewards were waiting for me in San Francisco, so it was worth it.
- She was excited to try the roller coaster, but, unsurprisingly, she chickened out.
- She seemed to have a great time, but, to be honest, she just wanted to go home all the time.
- We all thought he had a lot to say, but, as it turns out, he kept quiet.
- He was the best candidate among the interviewees, but, sadly, he didn’t get the job.
When you don’t need a comma before “but”
A comma before “but” is not unnecessary if you have an independent clause connecting with a dependent clause.
It is also not needed when there is no pause or when a pause is not intended in the sentence. If the meaning of the sentence is clear without the comma, you don’t need one.
Here are a few examples:
- The maid had two others but earned peanuts.
- Mary had a dinner date but didn’t go.
- It’s tough but worth it.
- She did not come but not because of that.
- He was old but smart.
When you don’t need a comma after “but”
A comma is not needed after “but” if there is no interruption or pause after the “but.”
- The weather was bad but the game was exciting.
- I was tired but I had to finish the project.
- She wanted to go out but it was too late.
- He was hungry but he didn’t want to cook.
- The traffic was heavy but they still arrived on time.
The placement of the comma with “but” depends on the context of the sentence. When “but” connects two independent clauses and there is an intended pause, a comma should be placed before it.
When “but” provides a contrast or exception, a comma should be placed after it. Remembering these rules will ensure clear and effective communication in your writing.