I would like to know what the rule is, if there is one, behind the use of commas after all sequence words except then. I have seen "then" written both with a comma and without one, but I remember reading somewhere that you never put a comma after the word "then". is this true?


-First, we went to the movies. Then we ate dinner. Finally, we went home.

-Outline your paragraph. Then write your thesis statement.

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    Outline your paragraph. Then, if you're sufficiently sober, write your thesis statement. – Hot Licks Mar 30 '15 at 16:33

Generally, see CMOS's great advice on the issue:

Q. Is it necessary to use a comma after words like next, then, after that, last, and finally when they are the beginning of a sentence? I am a lower-school teacher and need to clarify this.

A. Punctuation is not so simple that you can make a rule that a comma “always” follows a given word or phrase. Commas depend on syntax as well as pacing, tone, and personal preference. Two examples with next:

Next comes the scene where he buries the toenails.

Next, since he was still breathing, she worked a crossword puzzle.

Please don’t teach your students punctuation until you understand this. Find a grammar book and read the punctuation chapter. CMOS is a good place to start.

Advice has varied for centuries.

See, in this specific example:

; then they sold it for considerable profit.

Do not place a comma after Then


Commonsense Grammar And Style By Phillip S. Sparks

This is a fight fought even by the editors of John Donne:

Then, lest thy love, hate, and me thou undo

where some editions skip the comma after "Then"

as shown, e.g., in this annotation:

The Songs and Sonets of John Donne - Page 164 John Donne, ‎Theodore Redpath - 2009

Now, let's get to some stats.


. THEN , 15077

. THEN 94401

Thus, while the starting "Then"s without a comma represent a majority, those followed by a comma are around in quite representative numbers.

These are two examples from perhaps the greatest American writer:

Her mother died first. She said, “Take care of paw .” Lena did so. Then one day her father said, “You go to Doane’s Mill with McKinley. [...]

It required only one or two questions . Then, sitting on the top step, the fan and the bundle upon her lap, Lena tells her story again, with that patient and transparent recapitulation of a lying child, the squatting overalled men listening quietly.

Light in August, by William Faulkner

showing Faulkner feeling the need for both approaches.

But there is no comma after starting "Then," in "V." a large novel by Thomas Pynchon, and he is great too, IMHO :-)

To a large extent, I feel this is about pauses in speech, and about how breezy/fast a flow a writer desires/designs to have.

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    A bit delayed, I know, but all of your examples of then followed by a comma are simply examples of then followed by nonrestrictive clauses. So, for example, the Faulkner quote—were you to omit "sitting on the top step, the fan and the bundle upon her lap"—could read, "Then Lena tells her story again..." In your examples, the comma following then is never contingent on the word then, but on what follows. – Jake Regier Sep 4 '15 at 17:02

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