Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I was once told by an English professor that a comma should never be used before but in a sentence. For years, I have followed her advice but sometimes I just feel like it just needs to be there. On the other hand, my brain also tells me that the word but is, in a sense, performing the same function as a comma in the sentence.

Does anyone know if there is a rule for this?

share|improve this question
8  
For the record: "For years I have followed her advice, but sometimes..." would have been completely correct. –  Brennan Vincent Jun 2 '11 at 16:27
1  
I must have had the same teacher! The comma with 'but' is redundant. 'But' provides the pause in the sentence so only rarely, for additional emphasis of a pause, might a comma be needed with 'but.' –  user46419 Jun 20 '13 at 21:05
add comment

9 Answers

up vote 22 down vote accepted

Larry Trask's Penguin Guide to Punctuation makes it clear that it is permissible to use a comma before 'but'. The OWL Perdue Writing lab does the same. The BBC Learning English site likewise.

You were misinformed.

share|improve this answer
    
Thanks for the citations –  jon_brockman Jun 2 '11 at 16:49
add comment

That rule sounds very odd. Few people would never use a comma before but. I believe many follow this rule: use a comma before but if (and only if) it introduces an independent sentence. This applies to the other coordinating conjunctions too (and, or, and so).

She liked him but refused to marry him.

She liked him, but she refused to marry him.

I find that I do not always stick to this rule: I sometimes use a comma before but-dependent when I feel a pause would somehow improve the flow of the sentence (vague, I know).

In very short (informal?) sentences, the comma is sometimes left out regardless, though some might object to this:

It's true but it sucks.

share|improve this answer
add comment

The word may make a comma semantically redundant, but syntactically it aids readability.

share|improve this answer
    
I completely agree. –  jon_brockman Jun 2 '11 at 16:50
    
Except that this should read 'The word [but] may make a comma redundant as an aid to identifying the structure used, but prosodically it aids readability.' –  Edwin Ashworth Feb 5 at 9:06
add comment

It depends on the actual sentence. Often but is used before a contrasting element and thus should be set off by a comma. This conflicts with the no comma rule before the conjunction for dependent clauses - to be on the safe side use comma before but, and convert a dependent clause into an independent one by adding a subject.

Example:

I can do most of the things the software would do for me but am unclear on the symbiosis of it all.

should be

I can do most of the things the software would do for me, but I am unclear on the symbiosis of it all

to avoid the conflict.

Source.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Visit the Corpus of Contemporary American English, and search for but. You will find many sentences where a comma precedes but.

This is a useless, artificial rule, one of the type that misguided English teachers love so much to invent.

share|improve this answer
add comment

My rule is to avoid commas before conjunctions unless the conjunction indroduces a clearly new idea. I often type a comma before a conjunction only to remove it when I realise it divides the text unnecessarily.

share|improve this answer
add comment

In my first college course, I was taught to use a comma before "but" when it introduced an independent clause. I used to slap commas in intuitively, but I'm glad I've learned how to use them properly.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Actually, there is not a simple answer here. This is why some of us were taught to use comma before 'but', and some of us were not.

Generally speaking, in the UK, writers tend not put a comma before the conjunction. In the US, however, writers tend to use a comma.

The links below will give more info: http://www.grammar-monster.com/lessons/commas_before_conjunctions.htm http://www.grammar-monster.com/lessons/commas_in_lists.htm

share|improve this answer
    
This isn't really a link-sharing site so much as it's a give the answer and then explain it site, but I'm guessing you came from a different se? –  virmaior Feb 13 at 11:50
    
I googled exactly the same question and found the links above. Then found this thread where no one said about the differences between the UK and the US styles, which make perfect sense to me. I hope, I pretty clearly presented info I wanted in the first four sentences, and then gave the links for those interested to learn more. What's wrong with this approach? –  ten0s Feb 13 at 15:41
add comment

General rule of thumb: if "but" is used as a coordinating conjunction (one that combines two independent clauses), then it should be accompanied by the preceding comma.

share|improve this answer
add comment

protected by Matt Эллен Mar 24 at 11:55

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.