should a comma be used before "then"?

He went to the store then to the barber.


He went to the store, then to the barber.

  • Yes, that works. For very short sentences, skip the comma: He ate had pizza then dessert. Commented May 25, 2017 at 21:43
  • 1
    The "rules" (such as they are) have very little to do with specific words (such as "then") but rather they deal with the structure of the sentence.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented May 26, 2017 at 0:46
  • Also check out thepunctuationguide.com
    – NVZ
    Commented Jun 26, 2017 at 4:06
  • 1
    Say it out loud and listen for the comma. If you hear it, write it; otherwise not. Commented Mar 30, 2023 at 17:43

5 Answers 5


There are many grammatical rules for the use of commas. One of the best sources I have seen can be found at the website below. http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/commas.htm

Notwithstanding the article cautions that the use of a comma for "a pause in reading is not always a reliable reason to use a comma", I believe providing a cue to pause remains a very important consideration. In particular for someone reading aloud. Sadly, this is something often lost in modern day writing. The length of the sentence, I believe, is immaterial. Imagine a theatre/theater play where commas weren't used! In the example you provide, the use of a comma, in my opinion, is appropriate before the "then".


In the example you provided, both are acceptable but I would say that you should be aware that in some instances adding a comma may change the meaning conveyed. A comma should also be used when listing - "We drove home, then parked the car and then finally went inside."


Of those two examples, the first would be preferred by most style guides: "He went to the store then to the barber."

You would only use a comma before a "then" used for sequencing multiple events as in your example in the following cases:

  1. There are more than two events, such that it's a list with three or more items: "He went to the store, purchased what he needed, then headed to the barber."

  2. The "then" is functioning as a coordinating conjunction (like an "and") with two independent clauses: "He went to the store, then he made his way to the barber." (note the additional words that make the part after "then" an independent clause). Some style guides reject this usage of "then", only allowing the FANBOYS to be coordinating conjunctions (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so), but this is, nevertheless, a fairly common usage.

  3. This last reason is the most subjective. If you need a pause there for dramatic effect, to force the reader to pause on the first part before taking in the second, then, depending on the style guide, a comma may be appropriate. "He caught his reflection at the store, then headed straight to the barber." In this case, the comma is ONLY appropriate if you want to force a pause. It is not grammatically required. By default, you would leave it out because the part after "then" is not an independent clause.



How, then, should one deal with such matters?

The above, "We drove home, then, etc." is incorrect, or maybe just a bad example. The sentence doesn't require "then." It would simply read, "We drove home, parked the car, and went inside."


A comma should be placed before and after "then". From the example: "We drove home, then, parked the car, and then, finally went inside."

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