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I am confused when to put a comma after "so" and after "then" at the start of a sentence.

And then that's when you went to the store?

Then at McDonald's you were only there for a year, year and a half?

And she has to be able to get everything down. So, if we talk over each other, it won't be clear.

So, the last seven years you worked for Dollar General, correct?

Thank you!

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    It's a style choice, there's no hard and fast rule. If you feel like you'd naturally pause after so or then when speaking the sentence out loud, put a comma in. Jul 14, 2014 at 19:41
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    @ElendilTheTall I agree up to a point, but there are certain strings where there is more need for a comma. So she went out = So, she went out. So can you =/= So, can you(?) Then, she went out = Then she went out. Then Bill's married? But *Then, Bill's married? Jul 14, 2014 at 20:22
  • So, basically, you're saying it's based on the spoken word and up to me as the editor? Thanks for your help!
    – user85042
    Jul 16, 2014 at 10:58
  • @EdwinAshworth, why do you mark "Then, Bill's married" with a *? Did you mean it's ungrammatical? If so, why? // Or if you meant the comma is really unacceptable there (why?), what about the comma when the following part has more surprise or shock, e.g. "Then, Bill has died!?"? Mar 1, 2020 at 14:27
  • @Mr Reality At least in 'BrE', an introductory 'then' (and we're talking about the 'So', 'What you're saying then is that' sense) is never followed by a comma (contrast an introductory 'however'). Mar 1, 2020 at 14:38

1 Answer 1

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In each of the OP's listed examples involving then or so

And then that's when you went to the store?

Then at McDonald's you were only there for a year, year and a half?

So, if we talk over each other, it won't be clear.

So, the last seven years you worked for Dollar General, correct?

—ElendilTheTall's comment (above) that including or omitting a comma after then or so is simply a style choice accurately describes the situation, because the sense of the sentence remains unchanged whether the comma is there or not.

But as Edwin Ashworth notes (in another comment), there are times when a sentence may mean different things, depending on whether the author includes or omits a comma after one of those words. In the case of so, this happens because the comma can indicate a difference between so in the sense of "as a result":

So, we spent the night there.

and so in the sense of "in that particular way":

So we spent the night there.

And in the case of then, it happens because the comma can indicate a difference between then in the sense of "it logically follows that":

Then, we can eat.

and then in the sense of "at that time":

Then we can eat.

In many instances, context will give a reader enough clues to figure out what sense of then or so the author intends, regardless of punctuation. But consistent use of suitable punctuation in potentially ambiguous situations involving these words will make the reader's job easier.

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