For example, do I need the commas in the following sentence?

If you use spectacles, or if you think you will require them within the next year or so, inform your supervisor.

To me, this reads better to me with the commas, but are they necessary?

  • Comma placement doesn't depend on grammar or which words you choose; it depends on intonation. If you hear an intonation curve there, put a comma in. If you don't hear it, don't. If you're not listening, you won't put them in the right places. Sep 24, 2021 at 15:57
  • And intonation/commas will help a listener/reader parse "If you would like to contact your dad or brother, or if you require a new coat of paint, ..."
    – DjinTonic
    Sep 24, 2021 at 16:02
  • Immaterial to the question about commas, but of course the sentence could be trimmed: "If you would like to contact your dad, or require a new coat of paint, we will gladly help." In which cases the commas help prevent confusion with "If you would like to [either] contact ... or require ..." Sep 24, 2021 at 18:14
  • 1
    Yes, it's difficult to come up with a specimen sentence which doesn't sound unnatural unreduced. // 'If you have a cycle with you or if you brought your car leave at once' certainly doesn't need the commas and is probably better without the pauses (sounds like an emergency). The new example in your post is probably better with them, easier to read (especially for the aspirationally challenged). But this usually boils down to style choices. Sometimes, commas will be preferable, sometimes zero punctuation ... sometimes, you have a free choice to indicate your preferred rhythm. Oct 24, 2021 at 19:11
  • ... Of course, where punctuation disambiguates, clarity becomes the overriding factor, in line with Grice's 4th maxim. Oct 24, 2021 at 19:13

1 Answer 1


So, I would strongly but respectfully contest the assertion that punctuation supervenes on spoken intonation. This is a rule of thumb and not a foolproof method for producing the correct punctuation, used by people who don't know the rules but want to do better than just random guessing (hence its advocacy by teachers). There are in fact rules for comma placement. Copious rules. They often align with pauses or changes in intonation, but not always. Regarding the placement of commas after an if clause, Purdue Online Writing Lab (https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/punctuation/commas/extended_rules_for_commas.html) says:

  1. Use commas after introductory a) clauses, b) phrases, or c) words that come before the main clause.

a. Common starter words for introductory clauses that should be followed by a comma include after, although, as, because, if, since, when, while.

Regarding the placement of commas before an or clause (not just "or"), Grammarly (https://www.grammarly.com/blog/comma-before-or/) says: Commas before “Or” When Beginning an Independent Clause

It is considered good style to place a comma before or when it begins an independent clause. An independent clause is a clause which could stand alone as its own sentence, because it has its own subject and verb.

  • 2
    One major snag is that there aren't just copious rules, there are contradictory rules. There is no more a correct punctuation czar in English than there is a grammaticality czar. Different style guides give different advice in the non-central areas (and this is certainly one). And a far more balanced and sensible answer (and with supporting references) to the use of commas after introductory elements (strings) than the broad-brush Purdue arrogation has already been given on ELU. The same is true for commas used before coordinators such as and, or. Oct 24, 2021 at 18:51
  • This answer is not only debatable, but it doesn't clearly explain where you think the commas should be. A useful answer would include the sentence punctuated as you believe necessary.
    – Stuart F
    Nov 24, 2021 at 8:59

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