Should you always type a comma after "therefore","however" etc. in the beginning of a sentence? Also, when these (and similar) words are used in the middle of a sentence, should there be a comma or semi-colon before and after the word?

Therefore, he must be killed!

That man is revolting, however, some find him attractive.

Sorry for the lousy examples. I couldn't think of any better.


Not really. There are many cases for which a comma is unnecessary.

He is strong, and therefore a likely candidate.

However strong he is, he is not a likely candidate.

And so on.

As for subordinate clauses, where the words function as subordinating conjunctions, the comma isn't always necessary either.

He is strong, therefore he must be a likely candidate.

Still, I would use one with however in that case:

He is strong; however, I don't think he's a likely candidate.

Note the semicolon. A period would work there as well. This is because "however" doesn't really work as a subordinating conjunction. Therefore isn't usually classed as such either, but I believe it can function as one just fine.

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  • Nice answer. About this sentence "He is strong, therefore he must be a likely candidate", what if you change it adding "and", like this: "He is strong and, therefore, he must be a likely candidate." Is it necessary in that case or am I just being paranoid? – Alenanno May 22 '11 at 16:21
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    @Alenanno: You could use and and add commas there, but your sentence as stated sounds awkward. I would rephrase it as "He is strong and, therefore, a likely candidate." The ellipsis adds clarity. Note that this places a lot of emphasis on therefore; if you don't want so much emphasis but still want to use and, eliminate one comma and reposition the other: "He is strong, and therefore he must be a likely candidate." You could even eliminate all the commas: "He is strong and therefore he must be a likely candidate." – Robusto May 22 '11 at 16:25
  • Oh you're right about the ellipsis, I didn't notice. Yeah, I could feel it added emphasis, but it seems to be an enough dynamic construction so I could choose among other options. Thanks. – Alenanno May 22 '11 at 16:31
  • Correct on the semicolon. – The Raven May 22 '11 at 17:04
  • What about this sentence: However this definition does not say a lot, therefore a slightly more elaborated version like: "Something that amuses, pleases or diverts, especially a performer or show." might be more fitting, however `show' should here be understood as the interactive system, which is to be developed. – benregn May 22 '11 at 18:16

This is a problematic area, because the modern tendency is to omit commas wherever this can be done without prejudicing meaning and/or readability.

By their very nature grammars and style guides tend to be somewhat behind the times. Who can say whether I 'should' have inserted a comma after nature in the preceding sentence?

I suggest that as a rule of thumb, if you can reasonably speak the sentence without a noticeable pause after the word however, don't bother with the comma. Otherwise, use it (same rule applies to otherwise, obviously, but these things are never cut-and-dried).

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    +1 I agree: some style books say that such commas are a matter of taste, while others strongly recommend them. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica May 22 '11 at 21:17
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    @Cerberus: I just wish I could bring myself to discard commas more often, but it's very hard to change your own style. I feel positively inadequate sometimes when I see other people effortlessly using a comma instead of a full stop. – FumbleFingers May 22 '11 at 23:04
  • Heh, well, perhaps it would be healthier mentally if you felt superior instead! – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica May 23 '11 at 0:41
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    How can I feel superior? I only ever had one upvote here, and now somebody's wiped it out with a downvote! AND I could probably have dispensed with that comma, but the moving finger has writ and must move on... – FumbleFingers May 23 '11 at 1:42
  • [Smirking, nearly three years later...] Hah! Slow and steady wins the race! – FumbleFingers Mar 11 '14 at 13:43

I found this here (ncsu.edu).

Chicago Manual of Style 5.69: "When [transitional adverbs] are used in such a way that there is no real break in continuity and no call for any pause in reading, commas should be omitted.

Chicago gives four examples: (1) The storehouse was indeed empty; (2) I therefore urge you all to remain loyal; (3) Wilcox was perhaps a bit too hasty in his judgment; (4) Palmerson was in fact the chairman of the committee.

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Should there always be a comma? No.

Should there often be a comma after linking adverbials? Yes.

Will you and others consistently add a comma? No.

Why? Because English is losing its commas and, although the comma's death is mourned by some such as myself, many English writers seem to be happy to dispense with it. Language changes. Punctuation in written English was developed to aid in oral reading to help indicate where and how long to pause. As most reading is silent now, the need for it is dying a slow death. Look at the semicolon. It's on its deathbed now. The comma is not far behind. The truth is that it's rarely necessary. It helps in some lists (note the Oxford comma debate) and in some clause structures, but in those situations where it's not absolutely necessary to aid in creating meaning, it's disappearing.

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    Even though a piece of writing is to be read silently that does not mean that a writing style that has rhythm and structure will go unnoticed. I have read a few novels where the melodiousness of the prose made me want to start reading them aloud to the randoms on the train. I didn't, but. – stib Mar 11 '14 at 10:51
  • I disagree strongly. I believe that the comma's roles are being redefined more logically, so that, for instance: >> John said "Hello" to the policeman. // After thinking about the situation for some time, John asked his two flatmates: "Are you going to the lecture this afternoon or staying on the campus?" // After a long silence, John asked, "Was he in great pain during his last few days?" >> are possibly the most acceptable choices. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 17 '14 at 10:24

Commas should be used in a similar way to a rest in music. The rest is silence, however the rest can be replaced by extending the value of the note, for the flow of the music. I use commas with breathing in mind. I read my text many times, next I omit or insert what is applicable to create a comprehensive written statement. Writing should flow, as a melody would.

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    Some vegetables listed were cabbage, squash, cauliflower, peas, and carrots. Do you speak that list with deliberate pauses? I don't. – Robusto Jan 10 '13 at 22:27
  • Welcome to EL&U. We exist to give factual or "right" answers to questions. I certainly don't mean this is a "wrong" answer. It might be "right": but it needs some factual support, such as a citation of a reputable source. – MetaEd Jan 10 '13 at 23:25
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    I utter it with much less of a pause between "and" and "carrots" than anywhere else in the list. – MetaEd Jan 11 '13 at 0:03
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    Commas have various functions. They are used to disambiguate, for example to identify what sort of construction is being used ("Let's eat Peter" v "Lets eat, Peter") as well as (increasingly nowadays) to indicate how a passage is best read out. Although in the famous example I cite the two functions coincide nicely, this isn't always the case in traditional grammar: John said, "Hello," to the policeman. [Some would call the 'organisational' usages of commas 'grammatical usages' (ODO: grammatical: 'Relating to grammar') while others would scream 'Punctuation isn't grammar!'] – Edwin Ashworth Apr 17 '14 at 9:54

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