Mastering Commas: Do You Put a Comma Before or After ‘But’?

Punctuation, the silent conductor of written speech, directs the ideas, pauses, and links between words, phrases, and paragraphs. Without the proper punctuation, a sentence can transform from a clear, well-organized statement to a dizzying combination of words, perhaps leading to misunderstandings and misinterpretations. The comma is also an important punctuation mark. Let’s review in detail how does the comma go before or after “but” word.

The placement of commas before or after the word “but” is a subject that frequently causes writers to become perplexed and results in inconsistent readings of written language. Clear and successful communication depends on knowing how to use commas with the word “but.” In this post, we’ll look at the guidelines for using commas with “but,” typical situations in which they’re employed, and exceptions to the rules.

What is the right way to use a comma before or after but?

When to use comma before but

When ‘but’ links two independent clauses, one of the main guidelines for using a comma with ‘but’ is to put a comma before it. A group of words that can be read as a complete sentence on its own is known as an independent clause. A comma is placed before the conjunction “but” to demarcate the connection between two separate phrases. For instance:

Correct: She couldn’t find her wallet, and she wanted to go to the movies.

The comma before “but” in this example helps to distinguish between the independent phrases “She wanted to go to the movies” and “She couldn’t find her wallet.”

When ‘but’ is used to contrast or integrate two separate thoughts or acts, this rule is applicable. It makes the text easier to read and guarantees that the reader understands how the clauses relate to one another.

When to use comma after but

However, there are several situations in which you shouldn’t put a comma before “but.” A comma is often omitted when the word “but” joins two clauses together or separates an independent phrase from a dependent clause. Here are a few instances:

Correct: When she realized she had misplaced her wallet, she wanted to go to the movies.

But in this sentence, “She wanted to go to the movies” and “realized she had lost her wallet” are two aspects that are connected within a single independent clause. Because there are no distinct independent clauses, there is no need for a comma.

Correct: She intended to go to the cinema but discovered her wallet was gone.

She wanted to go to the movies and “realized she had lost her wallet,” which are two aspects that are connected by the word “but” in this sentence. Since there are no distinct independent sentences, no comma is necessary.

Exception: Use of a Comma After ‘But’ for Emphasis

While the general rule is to omit a comma after ‘but’ in situations described above, there is an exception when using a comma after ‘but’ for emphasis. This is a stylistic choice, and it can be used when a writer wants to draw attention to the contrast or connection between two ideas. Here’s an example:

Correct: She wanted to go to the movies, but, alas, her wallet was nowhere to be found.

In this case, the comma after the first ‘but’ is used to emphasize and create a pause, drawing attention to the unfortunate situation. This is not a strict grammatical rule but a stylistic choice and should be used sparingly for effect.

Use of ‘But’ in Compound Sentences

In compound sentences, ‘but’ often plays a pivotal role in joining two independent clauses. When using ‘but’ in such sentences, a comma is placed before ‘but’ to ensure clarity and proper punctuation. For example:

Correct: She was tired, and she wanted to go to the movies, but she couldn’t find her wallet.

In this example, the comma before ‘but’ helps clarify that ‘but’ connects the second independent clause to the first independent clause.

Complex Sentences with ‘But’

Complex sentences involve the use of independent and dependent clauses. When ‘but’ connects an independent and dependent clause, a comma is not necessary because the dependent clause relies on the independent clause for its meaning. For instance:

Correct: She wanted to go to the movies but couldn’t find her wallet when she needed it.

In this case, “when she needed it” is a dependent clause that cannot stand alone as a complete sentence. Therefore, no comma is placed before ‘but.’

Using ‘But’ in Lists

When ‘but’ is used within a list of items, no comma is needed before ‘but.’ Here’s an example:

Correct: She wanted to buy a dress, shoes, and a handbag but realized she couldn’t afford them all.

In this list, ‘but’ is used to connect the last item in the list to the previous items without requiring a comma.

Incorporating ‘But’ in Dialogue

In dialogue, the rules for using commas before & after ‘but’ remain consistent with the guidelines outlined above. For instance:

Correct (in dialogue): John said, “I want to help, but I have other commitments.”

Here, ‘but’ connects two independent clauses within John’s statement, and a comma is appropriately used before ‘but’ to indicate the separation of these clauses.


The use of commas before or after the word “but” is, thus, dependent on certain grammatical conventions and stylistic choices. To sum it up:

  • When ‘but’ joins two separate clauses, a comma should come before it.
  • When the word “but” joins clauses that are part of the same phrase or connect an independent clause to a dependent clause, omit the comma.
  • For emphasis, you could use a comma after “but” in some circumstances.
  • To maintain clarity in compound statements, place a comma before “but.”
  • Omit the comma when ‘but’ connects an independent and dependent phrase in complex sentences.
  • ‘But’ can join items in lists even when there isn’t a comma before them.
  • The same guidelines for comma placement in dialogue as in other types of writing apply.

You may improve the readability and clarity of your work when using ‘but’ correctly with commas by knowing and following these principles. Furthermore, to access valuable insights, consider our topics like “Key Strategies for Elevating Your Capitalize Seasonal Writing.”

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