Comma Before or After But | Correct Use & Examples

Commas updated on  January 9, 2024 2 min read
Put a comma before but when it’s used to connect two independent clauses (i.e., two clauses that each contain a subject and a verb).

Example: Commas before but connecting two independent clauses

Justin wanted to go to the party, but he was busy.

Put a comma after but only when it is followed by an interrupter (i.e., a parenthetical expression that qualifies the statement or indicates mood or tone).

Example: Comma after but when using an interrupter

But, having realized his mistake, the doctor apologized.

These rules also apply to using commas with the coordinating conjunctions “and” and “or.”


When to use a comma before but

When “but” is used to connect two independent clauses, it is always preceded by a comma. An independent clause is a clause that has a subject and a verb and can function as a complete sentence.

Examples: Comma before but connecting independent clauses

I ate at that restaurant last week, but I didn’t like it.

Kevin is talented, but he is unmotivated.

The job is demanding, but it’s fulfilling.

When the subject of the second clause is a pronoun that refers to the same subject as the first clause, you can omit the pronoun. Doing this eliminates the need for a comma and simplifies your sentence.

Examples: Simplified sentences without a comma

I ate at that restaurant last week but I didn’t like it.

Kevin is talented but he is unmotivated.

The job is demanding but it’s fulfilling.

When to use a comma after but

A comma should only appear after “but” when it is followed by an interrupter (i.e., a parenthetical expression that adds additional but nonessential information). In these instances, a comma should also appear at the end of the interrupter.

Examples: Comma after but

We celebrated, but, as you can imagine, it just wasn’t the same without Ava.

The apartment is small but, in my opinion, cozy.

But, of course, we’ll try our best.

When you don’t need a comma before but

No comma is needed before “but” if it’s connecting an independent clause and a sentence fragment (i.e., a clause that does not contain both a verb and a subject or one that cannot function as a standalone sentence). For example, the clause “If you want” has both a subject (“you”) and a verb (“want”), but it does not express a complete thought.

Examples: But connecting independent clauses and sentence fragments
I eat fish, but not meat.
I eat fish but not meat.

The principal is tough, but fair.
The principal is tough but fair.

Quiz: Comma before or after but

Do you want to test your knowledge about placing a comma before or after but? Take our quiz below!


Do you want to know more about common mistakes, commonly confused words, rhetorical devices, or other language topics? Check out some of our other language articles full of examples and quizzes.


Common mistakes

Commonly confused words

Rhetoric

Whoa or woah

Advisor vs adviser

Metonymy

Theirs or their's

Accept vs except

Synecdoche

Ours or our's

Affect vs effect

Verbal irony

Forty or fourty

Among vs between

Irony

Sence or sense

Anymore vs any more

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Eoghan Ryan

Eoghan has taught university English courses on effective research and writing. He is particularly interested in language, poetry, and storytelling.

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