I was once told by an English professor that a comma should never be used before but in a sentence. For years, I have followed her advice but sometimes I just feel like it just needs to be there. On the other hand, my brain also tells me that the word but is, in a sense, performing the same function as a comma in the sentence.

Does anyone know if there is a rule for this?

  • 10
    For the record: "For years I have followed her advice, but sometimes..." would have been completely correct. Commented Jun 2, 2011 at 16:27
  • 1
    I must have had the same teacher! The comma with 'but' is redundant. 'But' provides the pause in the sentence so only rarely, for additional emphasis of a pause, might a comma be needed with 'but.'
    – user46419
    Commented Jun 20, 2013 at 21:05

9 Answers 9


Larry Trask's Penguin Guide to Punctuation makes it clear that it is permissible to use a comma before 'but'. The OWL Perdue Writing lab does the same. The BBC Learning English site likewise.

You were misinformed.


That rule sounds very odd. Few people would never use a comma before but. I believe many follow this rule: use a comma before but if (and only if) it introduces an independent sentence. This applies to the other coordinating conjunctions too (and, or, and so).

She liked him but refused to marry him.

She liked him, but she refused to marry him.

I find that I do not always stick to this rule: I sometimes use a comma before but-dependent when I feel a pause would somehow improve the flow of the sentence (vague, I know).

In very short (informal?) sentences, the comma is sometimes left out regardless, though some might object to this:

It's true but it sucks.


Visit the Corpus of Contemporary American English, and search for but. You will find many sentences where a comma precedes but.

This is a useless, artificial rule, one of the type that misguided English teachers love so much to invent.


General rule of thumb: if "but" is used as a coordinating conjunction (one that combines two independent clauses), then it should be accompanied by the preceding comma.


It depends on the actual sentence. Often but is used before a contrasting element and thus should be set off by a comma. This conflicts with the no comma rule before the conjunction for dependent clauses - to be on the safe side use comma before but, and convert a dependent clause into an independent one by adding a subject.


I can do most of the things the software would do for me but am unclear on the symbiosis of it all.

should be

I can do most of the things the software would do for me, but I am unclear on the symbiosis of it all

to avoid the conflict.

Source (archived version).


The word may make a comma semantically redundant, but syntactically it aids readability.

  • I completely agree. Commented Jun 2, 2011 at 16:50
  • Except that this should read 'The word [but] may make a comma redundant as an aid to identifying the structure used, but prosodically it aids readability.' Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 9:06

In my first college course, I was taught to use a comma before "but" when it introduced an independent clause. I used to slap commas in intuitively, but I'm glad I've learned how to use them properly.


Actually, there is not a simple answer here. This is why some of us were taught to use comma before 'but', and some of us were not.

Generally speaking, in the UK, writers tend not put a comma before the conjunction. In the US, however, writers tend to use a comma.

The links below will give more info:

  • This isn't really a link-sharing site so much as it's a give the answer and then explain it site, but I'm guessing you came from a different se?
    – virmaior
    Commented Feb 13, 2014 at 11:50
  • I googled exactly the same question and found the links above. Then found this thread where no one said about the differences between the UK and the US styles, which make perfect sense to me. I hope, I pretty clearly presented info I wanted in the first four sentences, and then gave the links for those interested to learn more. What's wrong with this approach?
    – ten0s
    Commented Feb 13, 2014 at 15:41

My rule is to avoid commas before conjunctions unless the conjunction indroduces a clearly new idea. I often type a comma before a conjunction only to remove it when I realise it divides the text unnecessarily.

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