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This morning I was also reviewing the proper use of a comma. I was reading over some weekly reports, and it is unfortunate how little understood [and applied] the rules of grammar have become. Here is what Grammarly has to say about commas. And, by the way, everyone should download and use Grammarly. It’s a great resource.
When Do You Need a Comma Before But?
[The comma rules for but apply to all conjunctions, including and, or, and so.]
You should put a comma before but only when but is connecting two independent clauses.
Correct I would go for a walk, but it’s raining outside.
How do you know you have two independent clauses? First, look at the words before but: I would go for a walk. Then look at the words after: it’s raining outside. Both of those phrases could stand alone as complete sentences. That means they’re independent clauses, so you need to use a comma before but.
When you don’t have two independent clauses, leave the comma out.
Incorrect I would go for a walk, but for the rain.
This time, but is connecting an independent clause to a dependent clause. How do you know? Look at the words after but: for the rain. That phrase can’t stand by itself as a complete sentence, which means it’s a dependent clause. Therefore, you shouldn’t use a comma before but.
Correct I would go for a walk but for the rain.
Here are a few more examples of when you should and shouldn’t use a comma before but in a sentence:
Incorrect The dog is young, but well trained.
Correct The dog is young but well trained.
Incorrect Grammar is boring, but necessary.
Correct Grammar is boring but necessary.
Incorrect The dog is young but he’s well trained
Correct The dog is young, but he’s well trained.
Incorrect Grammar is boring but it’s necessary
Correct Grammar is boring, but it’s necessary.
If you’re wondering whether you need a comma after but, the answer is that you probably don’t.
The only time you need a comma after but is when it is immediately followed by an interrupter. An interrupter is a little word or phrase that interrupts a sentence to show emotion, tone, or emphasis. You should always use a comma before and after an interrupter.
Correct But, of course, it’s not safe for Spot to go outside on his own.
In the sentence above, of course is an interrupter. You could take it out of the sentence without losing any meaning. The only reason it’s there is to emphasize the obviousness of the statement. If your sentence happens to place an interrupter directly after but, then go ahead and use a comma. Otherwise, you don’t need a comma after but.