But and Because; Commas Part 4

I thought I knew about commas before I started looking into them. It was a learning curve.

punctuation marks

Looking into. . .

  • But, and other little words that join things together, and. . .

  • Because



The rule for but is the same as that for and, or, nor, for, so, and yet. (These are called coordinating conjunctions, but you don’t need to remember that.)

We’re back to essential versus nonessential information here. If the conjunction follows a main clause that makes sense on its own, it’s added information, so add a comma:

David sprinkled more salt, but he still couldn’t eat the spinach.

If both clauses are necessary to make any sense, no comma is needed:

David sprinkled more salt but still couldn’t eat the spinach.

There is another way of looking at and and but that I find easier to remember.

If clauses have a subject on both sides of the conjunction, there should be a comma.

I phoned Emma earlier, but I haven’t heard back from her.

I phoned Emma earlier but haven’t heard back from her.

If the second clause assumes the same subject without naming it... or him or her… (in this case, I ) you don’t add a comma.

Peter got up and made his bed before heading down for breakfast.

Peter got up, and he made his bed before heading down for breakfast.

(A case of adding a comma when you add a subject? Or am I pushing this tip too far?)



What rule applies here?

I didn’t watch the film, because it starred Alfredo Bloggins.

I didn’t watch the film because it starred Alfredo Bloggins.

You might be forgiven for thinking that this is one situation where the discredited ‘pause’ myth might apply. However, there is a grammatical reason.

In the first sentence – with the comma – because refers to the whole of the first clause. The point is that I didn’t watch the film; the reason I didn’t watch is added information. The first part of the sentence will make sense without giving a reason why.

The whole purpose of the second sentence is to explain why I didn’t watch the film. This because is essential to the meaning of the sentence – it’s the whole point of it. Since this information isn’t added, it wants no added comma.


Another helpful resource. . .

The most exhaustive comma crib in one place must be Purdue OWL; another brilliant resource all-round, at . . .


brown rectangular wooden picture frame near light bulb
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com


I posted this a day early in case you thought it was a wind-up.

It’s all true. Honest.

Copyright © 2023 cathy-cade.com – All rights reserved.

11 thoughts on “But and Because; Commas Part 4

  1. Me neither. (That’s one reason why I wrote them all down, having looked them all up at some time or another when we were putting our first anthology together.)
    And sometimes you want to ignore some of them in the interest of not having too many commas in one sentence.
    Anyway, a writer’s first draft should be just as it comes out of our heads. It’s on reading it back that I find that it doesn’t sound how I meant it to. And sometimes my first edits don’t do the job either. Reading the story out loud is best – ideally a day or two after I finish writing it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You can imagine how I felt when I started editing the anthologies. My mail order proofreading course hadn’t gone into such detail. In fact, now I’ve learned more, I think they rather dodged the topic so as not to put us off.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I was following you fine until I came to the last pair. I cannot understand how the first sentence needs a comma despite your explanation. But as a complete geek, I have enjoyed the series immensely.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. It’s that second ‘he’ that makes the difference. although you can ignore all of it if it results in too many commas.
    Basically, I’ve decided, if in doubt, leave it out. If it makes sense on a second reading, leave it as it it.

    Liked by 2 people

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