I'm having a hard time phrasing this properly to look it up, but I believe I'm correct about my usage. Example sentence:

Infants should stay at home, or go to daycare if their parents both work.

A grammar checking program is insisting the comma should not be there, but I don't think it's fully grasping the nature of the sentence. Clearly it's not a parallel phrasing, which would imply that infants possibly should stay at home if both parents work.

  • 1
    Grammar checking programs are for guidance only: they are not foolproof - and they were written by humans, who may also have differing views about what is right and wrong. Also there is not always a specific right & wrong way to phrase things. Your punctuation is fine. But, personally, I don't like the wording: it sounds as if the infants should take themselves to daycare, and make those decisions themselves! – TrevorD Jul 1 '16 at 22:58
  • That was just a quick example I threw together lol; it's not the actual sentence in question. – Joe M Jul 1 '16 at 23:11
  • My comments still stand! – TrevorD Jul 1 '16 at 23:16
  • 1
    Wars have been fought over that comma. – Hot Licks Jul 2 '16 at 3:04

The correct usage of commas would be as follows:

Infants should stay at home or, if their parents both work, go to daycare.

These are bracketing commas.

The following resource still remains one of the best references on commas. I recommend reading it! It wins in simplicity and makes the rules easy to remember


Note how your original comma does not fit into any of these categories. If you want to use a comma before "or", both that before and after the "or" should be able to be stand alone as complete sentences:

Infants should stay at home, or they should go to daycare, if their parents both work.

Here the second bracketing comma is replaced by a full stop. This is fine.

Note that bracketing commas can be optional if the sentence is clear without them. Therefore, this is also correct:

Infants should stay at home, or they should go to daycare if their parents both work.


I don't think the way you phrased it is wrong, though I did misinterpret your sentence at first because of it! I thought you meant "if the parents work, the infant should stay at home or go to daycare" (with a stray comma in between). Of course that's not completely logical in terms of the infant's wellbeing, and now I understand what you're saying.

I think you might be able to express the thought in a clearer, less ambiguous way, such as:

Infants should stay at home, but if both parents work, the infant should go to daycare.

or split it up with a semicolon:

Infants should stay at home; if both parents work, the infant should go to daycare.

Or elaborate a bit more:

It's best that parents care for their infant in the comfort of home, but if both parents work, the infant should go to a daycare center.

  • 1
    I would suggest you misinterpreted it despite the comma being in an appropriate place: not because of it. Your interpretation would require the absence of the comma after 'home', and optionally, the presence of a comma after 'daycare'. But I do agree that rewording would be better. – TrevorD Jul 2 '16 at 10:18

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.