Should You Use a Comma Before or After the Word "But"?
Using a comma before or after the word "but" has bedeviled content writers for years. One reason is that, as a conjunction, the word "but" joins different parts of a sentence together and makes them easier to understand. However, as with many rules in the English language, using a comma before or after the word "but" depends on how it's being used and where. Sometimes you place a comma before but, but sometimes you put a comma after but. (And if you do it wrong, you may end up being the butt of someone's joke.)
For those writers who find the difference and usage difficult to remember and use, we offer several tips below to make the task easy to remember. They will empower you to know exactly where the comma should be when using the conjunction "but" and make your writing tasks easier.
Use a Comma Before But for Independent Clauses
Generally speaking, when connecting two independent clauses with the word "but," you should use a comma before but not after it. The reason is that an independent clause is a sentence that, on its own, will make sense even if another independent clause isn't attached to it. For example:
• I want to write content today.
• My computer isn't working.
To join both of these independent clauses, you would use a comma before but like this:
• I want to write content today, but my computer isn't working.
Let's take a look at another example, this time going backward.
• I wrote an article today, but my article was full of grammar mistakes.
If you look at this sentence, both clauses can and will function and be understood independently.
• I wrote an article today.
• My article was full of grammar mistakes.
Since this is the case, you would use a comma before but yet again. For this to work, both independent clauses have to make perfect sense on their own, as they do. That's why they're called "independent clauses" because they don't need any other words to be fully understood. So, to answer the question, "does the comma go before or after but when connecting independent clauses," the answer would be "there's no comma needed at all in this situation."
Does the Comma go Before or After But for Dependent Clauses?
Dependent clauses are clauses that readers wouldn't understand if left to their own devices. They can't stand on their own because they don't form complete, coherent sentences. Some independent clauses are phrases that don't form a complete sentence. They are merely a group of words with a subject and verb but don't express a complete thought. There are three types of dependent clauses, including:
• Adverb clauses. These clauses typically begin with subordinating conjunctions and modify verbs.
• Adjective clauses. This type of dependent clause modifies a noun. It can begin with a subordinating connection or with a relative pronoun.
• Noun clauses. As the name suggests, noun clauses name a person, place, thing, and also an idea.
Most often, you'll find yourself combining an independent clause with a dependent clause. Whether adverb, adjective, or noun, In this case, you would use no comma before or after the word "but." For example:
• I can't write today. (Independent clause)
• Can watch all the TV I want. (Dependent clause)
In this example, the finished sentence joining the independent and dependent clauses would look like this:
• I can't write today but can watch all the TV I want.
If you asked, "is there a comma before or after but" in this particular sentence, the answer would be that there's no comma needed at all.
Here's another example;
• I wrote an article today. (Independent clause)
• Made many grammar mistakes. (Dependent clause)
The full sentence created from this independent and dependent clause would look like this:
• I wrote an article today but made many grammar mistakes.
Again, there's no comma before but and no comma after but in this example because you're connecting an independent and dependent clause.
What about When Connecting two Dependent Clauses?
The thing about dependent clauses is that they must always be connected to an independent clause to make a fully realized, understandable sentence. If they aren't, you'll end up with a sentence fragment, which is a very serious no-no when it comes to content writing (or any other type of writing).
In short, there's no reason to wonder where do you put a comma (before or after but) when connecting two dependent clauses because it can't (or at least shouldn't) be done.
Is there ever a Situation When there is a Comma After But?
So far, we've seen that you put a comma before but when combining two independent clauses. Also, when combining an independent and dependent clause, there's no comma before but and no comma after but. In other words, it looks like there's never a situation where you would place a comma after but. But, since this is the English language we're talking about, there's always an exception. (Indeed, we just used it!)
In the previous sentence, we used the word "but" as an interrupter. Using "but" as an interrupter is, as they say, a writer's prerogative (Sometime's referred to as "creative license.") When you use the word "but" as an interrupter, you break up a sentence's flow with a word, phrase, or clause, usually for dramatic effect or to bring more attention to a particular passage. For example;
• I was going to write some scintillating content today but, as my computer went belly-up, I was forced to binge-watch Better Call Saul instead.
As you can see, putting a comma after but in this situation works perfectly fine. The clause "as my computer went belly-up" stops the flow of the sentence dead in its tracks, if only for a moment, offsetting this part from the rest of the sentence. But check this out: you can also use a comma before but and a comma after but when you use "but" as an interrupter:
• I was planning on writing today, but, much to my chagrin, my computer decided to blow a gasket.
Does the comma come before or after but in this sentence? Yes! It does both! (That's pretty cool; we think you'll agree.
The Rules for Using But in a Sentence aren't Extremely Difficult
Knowing when to use a comma with the word "but" can make the difference between well-written content and content that's riddled with grammatical errors. The good news is that it's really not that difficult. When you connect two independent clauses, you use a comma before but. You don't use a comma before but or a comma after but when connecting an independent and dependent clause. Lastly, when used as an interrupter, you can use a comma before but and, sometimes, a comma after but, too. We would explain more but, for now, the rest is up to you!
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