I have a colleague who often writes sentences in the form "While, [these circumstances would make X seem unlikely to be the case], [these other circumstances show that X is in fact the case].

For example: "While, it looks warm outside, there is actually a cold breeze so it is not warm at all."

Or take this real life example: "While, the Ports Access Regime does not expressly stipulate that access can be provided on different terms and conditions, the mechanisms in the Regime support the commercial negotiation of individual access arrangements, and access on different terms and conditions is not precluded."

Surely that is incorrect? One gets rid of the comma following the "While," in all cases, correct?

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    I can't provide a concrete answer with sources, but I sure hope that's incorrect. It kinda hurts my head just to look at it.
    – cabbey
    Commented Feb 11, 2011 at 5:41
  • Indeed, no comma! Someone will probably come along with syntax rules that I don't understand sooner or later...
    – SamB
    Commented Feb 11, 2011 at 5:51
  • I’d agree that this is horrible, and incorrect in standard usage. But I’ve got a vague memory of having seen something like this used in legal writing…?
    – PLL
    Commented Feb 11, 2011 at 6:00
  • Interesting. My colleague and I are lawyers. The only other person I've seen write that way is also a lawyer, a semi senior one, and I believe my colleague may have picked up the usage from said other lawyer. Nevertheless, they are the only two people I've seen adopt that usage. My legal apprenticeship took place in a top firm; I was educated on legal writing there by some of the best partners, and never saw any of them adopt this usage. I'm sure it's wrong, and that there is no exception for a legal usage.
    – user4883
    Commented Feb 11, 2011 at 6:29
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    The only punctuational aberration I've seen in legal writing is to omit all punctuation altogether (barring the occasional full stop). I believe the intention is to force the writer to write unambiguous language that does not hinge on the interpretation of what a single comma means - but in practice all I've seen has been standard prose that relies on punctuation, and which would be barely comprehensible even with it, but rendered almost unintelligible by its removal.
    – psmears
    Commented Feb 11, 2011 at 15:00

3 Answers 3


You are correct; while should not have a comma after it in these situations. It is being used as a conjunction, with a meaning of "in spite of the fact that". If you substitute that series of words in for the while, it should be obvious that a comma is not called for:

In spite of the fact that, it looks warm outside, there is actually a cold breeze...

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    Thanks! That only took 15 minutes to get a clear answer. I like this site!
    – user4883
    Commented Feb 11, 2011 at 5:45
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    @Jonathan; if you're happy with the answer you should click the check mark next to it to "accept" it.
    – falstro
    Commented Feb 11, 2011 at 11:42
  • @roe: There isn't a time limit for accepting an answer; it would be nice to give to other users the time to see the question and give an answer, if they have one. (Never try to add a comment using an iPod: it is easy to write gibberish.)
    – apaderno
    Commented Feb 11, 2011 at 13:05
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    @kiam; I know that, I'm sorry @Jonathan if it came out sounding like I was pushing you. It's just that more often than not, new users (Jonathan is new here, and his account is not associated with any other stackexchange sites, so I figured he was new) are not aware of how the system works, and sometimes don't accept answers at all. I was merely trying to be helpful.
    – falstro
    Commented Feb 11, 2011 at 15:11

Generally speaking, starting a sentence with while followed by a comma is not wrong, or grammatically not correct. In the following sentence, it is correct to use the comma after while:

While, for people in industrial countries, the experience of medicalization has often lead to a sense of disempowerment and a desire for alternatives, for many "economically disadvantaged and rural people... it is often the obstacles to access medical services that seem to constitute disempowerment" (Gruenbaum 1998:58). —Reproductive Encounters: Negev Bedouin Women's Lay Encounters at Childbirth in an Israeli Hospital; Kisch, Shifra.

The sentence you wrote as example should not have a comma after while:

While it looks warm outside, there is actually a cold breeze so it is not warm at all.

That doesn't mean while is never followed by a comma, though.

I searched in the Corpus of Contemporary American for sentences containing While with a comma (marked as [1] in the chart) and While without a comma (marked as [2]). As the CoCA doesn't allow me to search for a word starting with an uppercase letter (or at least, I could not find a way to do it), I really looked for sentences where while was preceded from a period.
What I have obtained is the following data (the scale is logaritmic):


The British National Corpus report the following data:


In both the cases, while not followed by a comma is used in most of the cases.

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    Good answer! I'm not sure the graphs add much though... if you think they're important, could you change them to bar charts rather than lines? I'm not sure that the slant of the line between "fiction" and "newspaper" means very much :)
    – psmears
    Commented Feb 11, 2011 at 14:55
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    This graph reliably shows that scientists suck at writing. (Or perhaps that many publications are written by non-native speakers but in my personal experience both are equally true.) Commented Feb 11, 2011 at 15:20
  • I used that type of chart because it's the only one that allows me to use a logarithmic scale; if I would not use it, a set of values would appear near zero, without a possibility to see the differences between the values.
    – apaderno
    Commented Feb 11, 2011 at 15:36

Starting a sentence with while is bad style, reserved mostly for lawyers, corporate communications people, and university administrators. It is equivalent to a microaggression to the reader. AVOID.

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    Any references to suggest that this use of "while" is considered poor style? This seems like a personal opinion. Why would poor style be preferred by certain professions that focus heavily on written communication? Commented Aug 27, 2020 at 16:28
  • Because... English reading and writing (just like any other language, Inluding French or Mandarin) should be a pleasant experience. Clearly -- setting aside humor -- professions such as lawyers (used to writing contracts), corporate spokespeople (e.g."while wer are aware of potential risks in the Internet, we want everyone to be able to share share data with their friends") and university administrators( writing rules and regulation for students' cans and cannots), don't write well. I suggest the classic by William Knowlton Zinsser, ``On Writing Well'', which has, ahem, four stars in Amazo Commented Aug 27, 2020 at 19:11

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