As far as I understand, you use a semi-colon to separate main clauses joined by conjunctive adverbs (however, therefore, moreover, nevertheless, then, thus). And, when you use a conjunctive adverb, put a semicolon (;) before it and a comma (,) after it.

Example, using however:

Ernest Hemingway was a master of style; however, opinions about his work vary widely.

BUT using then, referring to sequencing, what is the proper usage?


He went to the store. Then he went home.

The above explanation would say that I need a semicolon between the sentences and a comma after then. And I have found many examples of this.

He went to the store; then, he went home.

But, is it a fast rule when you use then (I've read that "then" may not always be a conjunctive adverb) or can you just use a period? Do you always need the comma after, and can you reverse it?

He went to the store; then, he went home.

He went to the store; then he went home.

He went to the store; he then went home. (no comma after "then")

He went to the store. he then went home. (no semicolon between sentences)

I generally use He then as I feel it sounds better, but I'm confused as to whether that is grammatically correct and how to properly punctuate it. I can't find a definitive examples sentences.

  • This doesn't answer your question, but don't use a capital letter after a semicolon.
    – jsheeran
    Commented May 10, 2019 at 9:16
  • ah, yes, thanks. that was a mistake. can I/should I edit the post?
    – romebot
    Commented May 10, 2019 at 9:22
  • I cant seem to figure out how to edit a question. also, what's the difference between a comment and and answer. seems some people "answer" via comment but then there's an official "answer"?
    – romebot
    Commented May 10, 2019 at 9:26
  • Here's the edit link - it appears at the bottom of the question. Comments are for clarifications and things which are tangential to the question - they're not strictly supposed to be used for answers, but some people choose to include information which answers the question but isn't well-researched enough to be authoritative as a "proper" answer.
    – jsheeran
    Commented May 10, 2019 at 10:11
  • Here's a general rule of thumb test for punctuation. Say the sentence out loud. If brief pauses don't correspond to commas, medium pauses to semi-colons, and long pauses to periods, the punctuation is almost certainly wrong.. If all the punctuation and pauses match up though, that doesn't guarantee that it is correct. (Anyone following this rule will naturally use the Oxford comma.) Commented Nov 10, 2019 at 14:14

1 Answer 1


You can't make a simple rule about using comma after "then."

When "then" is the first word in the sentence, it acts as an introductory element, after which you usually use coma, but not necessary.

He went to the store. Then, he went home.

If you omit the comma, the sentence is still correct, but the pacing is different:

He went to the store. Then he went home.

You can also say:

He went to the store and then he went home. (no comma)


He went to the store; then he went home. (no comma)

You can use "then he went" or "he then went," depending on what is more appropriate in a given sentence.

The Chicago Manual of Style

Q. Is it necessary to use a comma after words like next, then, after that, last, and finally when they are the beginning of a sentence?

A. Punctuation is not so simple that you can make a rule that a comma “always” follows a given word or phrase. Commas depend on syntax as well as pacing, tone, and personal preference. Two examples with next:

Next comes the scene where he buries the toenails.

Next, since he was still breathing, she worked a crossword puzzle.

Do you always need to use a semicolon before "then" and comma after it, because it is a conjunctive adverb?

No. Check this article about Commas With Conjunctive Adverbs (American Journal Express)

You can see that conjunctive adverbs can be used at the beginning of the sentences as "introductory elements," which are usually (but not necessary) followed by comma.

  • It's perfectly grammatical to say 'he then did X', but it sounds a bit formal to use it in a simple sentence about everyday topics like going to the store. Commented May 10, 2019 at 12:59
  • It is, and it may even sound better in some context, or even in this one...
    – Jan
    Commented May 10, 2019 at 13:00
  • thanks so much, so the answer is all of the above? w/ period or w/ semicolon: does that mean that the rule that you put a semicolon in front of conjunctive adverbs does not apply because "then" is not a conjunctive adverb? or another reason? (I thought a semicolon had to go in front of all conjunctive adverbs.) And then every version of this is correct: w/ comma after then, w/o comma after then, he then, then he. are there no rules that govern this or is it just a matter of style?
    – romebot
    Commented May 11, 2019 at 0:35
  • "Then" is a conjunctive adverb, but you can use it at the beginning of the sentence (so, without semicolon before it), where it acts as an "introductory element." And yes, all the examples you listed in the comment can be correct. It's sometimes about grammar and sometime about style. I believe, you'll find this article very useful - it explains commas after conjunctive adverbs. I also updated my answer.
    – Jan
    Commented May 11, 2019 at 8:16

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