How do you punctuate a phrase such as "Waste not, want not." to indicate that the second phrase is dependent on the first. To me, you could read the above punctuation, which is typical, as "Waste not and want not."--which makes its own sense.

I have written, "Know where you've been, know where you are, know where you're going." I'm trying to indicate that you have to know where you've been and where you are to know where you're going.

2 Answers 2


Waste no, want not is a proverb, and proverbs are open to a certain amount of interpretation. Nevertheless, I have always taken this one to mean something like ‘If you don’t waste things, you won’t find that you’re in need of anything.’ It would hardly be a proverb worth bothering with if it meant simply ‘Don’t waste anything, and don’t want anything.’ Some might object to the use of a comma, without a coordinator, to join two clauses. I don’t. The fear of the comma splice, which seems to be stronger in the US than in the UK, is sometimes justified, but not always.

As for your own sentence, if what you mean is what appears after ‘I'm trying to indicate that . . .’ why not say just that?


"Waste not, want not" would be extended into:

You will want not if you waste not.

The general form of shortening "if-then" patterns is fairly common for small proverbs but the form is rather strict.

You will want not if you waste not.

If you waste not, then you will want not

You waste not, you want not

After this, the trimming out of "you" is just more shorthand.

[You] waste not, [you] want not

Waste not, want not

Your proposed proverb, however, doesn't work well with this form because it has too many commas and will get parsed as a list instead of a proverb:

Know where you've been, know where you are, know where you're going.

You would need to remove the first comma:

Know where you've been and know where you are, know where you're going

This fits the form properly but may still have comprehension issues due to its length. More specifically, the inclusion of two conditions in the initial "if" section makes this proverb a tad unwieldy. Trimming it down makes it a lot easier to read:

Know where you've been, know where you're going

The debate over whether "where you are" is needed for the proverb to make sense is outside of the scope for this site, but at least readers will parse this correctly.

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