Grammar Do You Need Commas Before Conjunctions? |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Do You Need Commas Before Conjunctions?

A common debate in English grammar can concern whether commas need to be used before conjunctions such as and, or, and but.

These debates may stem from the fact that different people have been taught different guidelines about this punctuation. Style guides often differ about it as well.

Today’s post will help to clear things up so you’ll know whether and when to use commas before conjunctions in your writing.

The Basic Rule on Commas Before Conjunctions

If you’re looking for a general guideline, we recommend using a comma before coordinating conjunctions such as and, or, and but when they join two independent clauses. An independent clause is a group of words that include a subject and a verb and can stand alone as a complete thought.

Let’s look at a couple of independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction:

Jane is great at spelling, but her grammar needs some work.

First we will stop at the dry cleaner, and then we will go to the hardware store.

In each example, the clauses before and after the underlined conjunction are independent. A comma and a conjunction typically separate such clauses. Here’s another example:

I could go with you to the movies, or I could stay home and watch the game.

Once again we have two independent clauses that have a subject and verb and can stand alone as a separate sentence. We have combined them with the conjunction or preceded by a comma.

Possible Exceptions to the Comma Before a Conjunction

We’ve established that a general guideline is to include a comma before a coordinating conjunction joining two independent clauses.

In some cases, depending on style and preference, a writer might omit the comma from a sentence with two shorter independent clauses joined by a conjunction:

I’d rather walk but Jenna wants us to drive.

Tim ate pizza and Jon had fries.

In such sentences, including or omitting the comma is often more a matter of desired effect than of strict grammar. A writer might choose to keep the comma to create a pause:

I’d rather walk, but Jenna wants us to drive.

Tim ate pizza, and Jon had fries.

Some publications and style guides also may specify that writers should use as few commas as possible. Such guidance is becoming more prevalent, particularly as more people read content on mobile devices and the internet, where cumulatively less punctuation can result in swifter reading.

Get the Grammar Advice You Need

Looking for grammatical guidance for the usage of commas? Review our article on the Oxford comma. If you have thoughts or questions about the article on this page, you can leave us a note below.

If the article or the existing discussions do not address a thought or question you have on the subject, please use the "Comment" box at the bottom of this page.

4 responses to “Do You Need Commas Before Conjunctions?”

  1. Marilyn Karr says:

    Should there be a comma before “and” in a series? For example: He likes to eat candy, popcorn, suckers and ice cream?

  2. vini says:

    I would like to know how to use “among others” in a list. Should we use “and” with among others?

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