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I'd really appreciate some help on this one.

Do I use comma in the following sentence?

What better way to celebrate 30 years of [name of my local football club], than with a win against [name of our next opponent]!

Context: We have a game coming up on the same day as we're celebrating 30 years and there would be no better way to celebrate it, than with a win against our rivals.

Thanks!

  • 2
    You can if you want. If you'd say it with a pause, then go ahead. – curiousdannii Oct 2 '14 at 13:00
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    You don't need one for grammatical clarification, and there are people who say a comma shouldn't be used just to provide a breathing space (literal or metaphorical) in a long sentence. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 2 '14 at 13:01
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    If you're reading this out then you might want to have a comma to pace the sentence and build dramatic tension. What better way... (pause while crowd pays attention) ...to celebrate THIRTY YEARS of [club]... (crowd cheers) ...than with a WIN... (crowd cheers louder) ...against [RIVALS]! (crowd goes wild) I can't think of why else you'd want to insert a pause. You don't need one for clarity. – Ed Guiness Oct 2 '14 at 13:40
  • What better way to signal a pause than with a superfluous comma? – Sven Yargs Dec 13 '17 at 21:18
1

English classes often teach the comma as a tool to be used whenever you need a verbal pause in a sentence; however, this leads to overuse of the comma, which I think is demonstrated by your sentence.

Let's simplify your sentence:

What better way to celebrate 30 years of [name of my local football club], than with a win against [name of our next opponent]!

becomes:

What better way to celebrate Manchester, than with a win against Chelsea!

becomes:

What better way to celebrate this, than to do that!

Once distilled, this sentence is ultimately a comparison between a better way of celebrating this and doing that (is there a better way? no), and thus should not contain a comma (1).

0

Writers will sometimes put a comma before a conjunction as this is where speakers will naturally pause for emphasis.

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Short answer: The comma does not make the sentence grammatically incorrect, but it is unnecessary. Too much of anything is not appealing.

  • Welcome to English Language & Usage. What reputable source is Me? I fear I have had the experience of people, presumably under my instruction as to work, finding my words rolling off their head like a marble on a glass table. On those occasions, I would have liked a cure for that. – J. Taylor Mar 3 '18 at 0:36
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The question of whether to include a comma before than in a sentence of the form "What better way to do X than with a Y" is ultimately a matter of stylistic preference and stylistic convention. Opposition to including the comma may be prescriptive ("Don't do that") or primarily descriptive ("This is how most people use commas"). Here is a look at these approaches.


The prescriptive approach

Prescriptive rules aren't so much arguments as dictates—and they can come across as remarkably arbitrary when presented without a rationale. The Grammarly page for "Rules for Comma Usage" that JeezLouise cites in a separate answer to this question favors the abrupt approach:

Comma Within a Comparison

Don’t use a comma before “than” when you’re making a comparison.

Incorrect This box is lighter, than that box.

Correct This box is lighter than that box.

Incorrect Hardcover books are more expensive, than paperback books.

Correct Hardcover books are more expensive than paperback books.

Well, there you have it: don't worry about why you shouldn't do it; just don't do it.


The descriptive approach by exclusion

A more complicated, roundabout, and exhaustive approach to the question involves checking whether this situation fits any of the main instances in which including a comma makes sense and/or is customary. Bryan Garner, Garner's Modern American Usage, fourth edition (2016), identifies nine appropriate uses of comma:

First, the comma separates items (including the last from the next-to-last) in a list of more than two—e.g.: "The Joneses, the Smiths, and the Nelsons." ...

Second, the comma separates coordinated main clauses—e.g.: "Cars will turn here[,] and coaches will go straight." ...

Third, the comma separates most introductory matter from the main clause, often to prevent misunderstanding. The introductory matter may be a word {Moreover,}, a phrase {In the meantime,}, or a subordinate clause {If everything goes as planned,}. ...

Fourth, the comma marks the beginning and end of a parenthetical word or phrase, an appositive, or or a nonrestrictive clause—e.g.: I am sure[,] however[,] that it will not happen."/"Fred[,] who is bald[,] complained of the cold." ...

Fifth, the comma separates adjectives that each qualify a noun in the same way {a cautious[,] reserved person}. If you could use and between the adjectives, you'll need a comma—e.g.: "Is there to be one standard for the old, repulsive laws that preferred whites over blacks, and a different, more forgiving standard for new laws that give blacks special benefits in the name of historical redress?" ...

Sixth, the comma separates a direct quotation from its attribution {"Honey, I'm home," Desi said}, but it is not used to separate quoted speech that is woven into the the syntax of the sentence: {TV loves catchphrases such as "Honey, I'm home."}

Seventh, the comma separates a participial phrase, a verbless phrase, or a vocative—e.g.: "Having had breakfast[,] I went for a walk."/"The sermon over {or being over}, the congregation filed out."/""Fellow priests[,] the clergy must unite in reforming the system of electing bishops." ...

Eighth, in informal letters, the comma marks the end of the salutation {Dear Mr. Crosthwaite[,]} {Dear Rebecca[,]} and the complimentary close {Very truly yours[,]} {Yours sincerely[,]}. ...

Finally, the comma separates parts of an address {#8 Country Club Dr., Amherst, Massachusetts} or a date {March 2, 1998}.

To these nine uses, I would add a tenth—one that explains the comma after the word blacks in Garner's discussion of the fifth use of commas: Tenth, the comma signals omission of an implied word or phrase from a parallel construction—e.g.: "Is there to be one standard for the old, repulsive laws that preferred whites over blacks[,] and [is there to be] a different, more forgiving standard for new laws that give blacks special benefits in the name of historical redress?"

The sentence "What better way to celebrate 30 years of X, than with a win against Y!" doesn't fall into any of these ten categories of use. It doesn't involve a list of more than two items; it doesn't separate coordinated main clauses; it doesn't separate introductory matter from the main clause; it doesn't include a direct quotation; it doesn't involve a participial phrase, a verbless phrase [in the sense that Garner's "The sermon over,..." example does], or a vocative; it is unrelated to the salutation or close of an informal letter; there is no address to deal with; and there is no omission of a parallel phrase. Therefore—if Garner and I have correctly identified all of the categories where using a comma is appropriate—there is no need for a comma in the posted sentence.


The syntactical logic approach

Another way to argue against including a comma before than in the sentence "What better way to celebrate 30 years of [name of my local football club], than with a win against [name of our next opponent]!" is to look at the logic of the construction. Reduced to its bare bones, the sentence offers a comparison, and in this regard the function of the word than isn't any different from its function in these sentence:

My local football club is better than its next opponent.

I can't think of a better way to win a match than by repeatedly kicking the ball into the opponent's goal.

What better way [is there] to sink than by not swimming?

In each of these sentences, both elements of the comparison must be accounted for in order for the statement to be meaningful; they aren't two freestanding ideas that happen to be linked by the word than. To the extent that adding a comma before than conceptually distances the two parts of the comparison from one another, it impedes the coherence of the underlying idea. To the extent that it merely provides a visual break after a string of unpunctuated words, it is a superfluous ornament.


The real-world survey approach

Matt3119, the person who posted this question, said that he preferred the sentence with the comma in place before than; presumably, then, he wanted to know whether his preference matched the broader stylistic convention (if one existed) for dealing with comparisons involving the word than. The answer to that question, I believe, is that convention generally opposes including a comma in such situations.

To test my expectation, I checked the first 100 Google Books search results for the sentence-opening phrase "What better way to" that also included an explicit than comparison (but excluding any instances where a parenthetical phrase set off with paired commas immediately preceded the than). In that sample, ninety-six of the sentences had no comma before than and four of them had a comma before than (although one of those four had a second "What better way to ... than ..." construction in the same paragraph that omitted the comma). A punctuation convention upheld by more than 90% of a randomly selected group of 100 published writers is, it seems to me, a fairly strong convention.


Conclusion

Whether to put a comma before than in a sentence of the general form "What better way to do X than with a Y" is a style issue. However, it is also the subject of a rather well-established convention of comma usage—and the convention is to omit the comma in such constructions. As is true of most other stylistic conventions, once you know what the "comma before than" convention is, you can reject it anyway (if your editors let you get with it); but in my view there is a crucial difference between refusing to defer to a convention you don't like and being unaware that the convention exists at all.

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