Consider the following example:

Now, to finish off, I would like to add one last stroke.

If my understanding is correct, "now to finish off" is an introductory part. So there definitely should be a comma before I.

However, I am not sure if there are two separate introductory words/phrases("now" and "to finish off") or one.

And if there are two, should they be separated with a comma in formal writing or not? What is the general rule for this?

  • What is stroke in this sentence?
    – KarlG
    Dec 12, 2018 at 13:54
  • In this example, I had in mind a stroke of an artist's brush or just making a final addition to something in general. But I am also interested if I should add a comma between two introductory phrases in general. Or if it depends on a context, then how?
    – Nutcase
    Dec 12, 2018 at 18:12
  • You will never get unanimous agreement on this. Personally, I find now to be redundant and cause confusion over introductory clauses and asides. In other words, I would simply write: To finish off, I would like to add one last stroke. The use of now doesn't add anything other than confusion. But you could also change the omission and write: "Now, I would like to add one last stroke. In other words, I agree with the answer that you should not use both now and to finish off together. Dec 12, 2018 at 18:47
  • 1
    @JasonBassford On the other hand, Nutcase didn't ask whether it was OK to use both "now" and "to finish off", only what happens when both are used. The tag is punctuation.
    – Spencer
    Dec 13, 2018 at 17:24
  • 'Now' here is an 'attention-grabber' audience directed pragmatic marker, and as such would probably be given a dramatic pause signalled in transcription by a comma. '... to finish off' is probably not a discourse-formatting pragmatic marker here, but a part of the matrix sentence ('I would like to add one last stroke to finish off [the painting]'). I'd say the comma after 'off' is rather misleading ... but I'd rephrase in any case. May 23, 2023 at 11:46

2 Answers 2


It doesn't matter that "now" and "to finish off" are introductory, what matters is that "to finish off" interrupts the sentence.

A phrase that does this is called a parenthetical expression.

You could just as easily have said

Now I'd like to add one last stroke

but you want to emphasize that you're finishing up whatever you're doing, so you add "to finish off". It might not agree with everybody's writing style, but it's OK. The standard way of setting off a parenthetical expression is to put commas before and after. So when you include this one, you get:

Now, to finish off, I'd like to add one last stroke.

Occasionally, parenthetical expression are set off in different ways. Sometimes people might actually use parentheses

Now (to finish off) I'd like to add one last stroke.

or even em dashes

Now -- to finish off -- I'd like to add one last stroke.

but commas are the most common style. Sometimes it depends on how you want the meaning of the expression integrated into the sentence.


This depends on the intended reading of the sentence. Ideally, this phraseology should be avoided entirely; it's best to choose one or the other. However, under the circumstances, I'd recommend a comma after "now" and a comma after "off".

  • Thank you for the answer. So if two introductory words convey different meanings, they should be separated with a comma. And otherwise, they shouldn't. Am I right? Like in this example "now" can mean to finish off right now, or it can be just a figure of speech.
    – Nutcase
    Dec 12, 2018 at 18:37
  • Meanwhile(?) during this cold winter, housing conditions aren't improving. What about this example?
    – Nutcase
    Dec 12, 2018 at 18:39
  • @Nutcase As with the first sentence. Remove either meanwhile or during this cold winter from the start of the sentence. If necessary, you can move during this cold winter to the end of the sentence. Dec 12, 2018 at 18:50
  • Hi, Sam, please see my comment to OP. We get way too much drama here on ELU from people answering something other than what was asked, so please take care in the future.
    – Spencer
    Dec 13, 2018 at 17:27

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