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Comma Before Or | Correct Use, Examples & Worksheet

Commas updated on  January 9, 2024 3 min read
Put a comma before “or” when it’s used to connect two independent clauses. A clause is independent if it contains a subject and verb and expresses a complete thought.

Example: Comma before “or” connecting two independent clauses
We might get a late train home, or we might spend the night in the city.

However, when “or” connects two verbs with one subject, it should not be preceded by a comma.

Example: “Or” connecting two verbs with one subject
You can either borrow my bike or walk.

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

When to use a comma before “or”

You should put a comma before “or” when it connects two independent clauses (i.e., two clauses that contain separate subjects and verbs).

This is the case even if the subject of the second clause refers to the same subject as the first, or if the verbs in both clauses are the same.

Examples: Comma before “or” connecting two independent clauses
Are you upset, or are you just tired?
Did Sorcha attend the party, or did she miss it?

In these instances, you can simplify your writing by omitting the second subject. You can also omit the second verb, if it’s identical to the verb in the first clause. Doing this eliminates the need for a comma.

Examples: Simplified phrasings with no comma needed
Are you upset or just tired?
Did Sorcha attend the party or miss it?

When “or” connects two short independent clauses that are closely related, the comma is usually considered optional.

Examples: “Or” connecting short independent clauses
You’re either in or you’re out.
You’re either in, or you’re out.

You should also put a comma before “or” when it’s preceded by something that’s usually set off by commas, like a nonrestrictive relative clause or a parenthetical expression.

Examples: Nonrestrictive clauses and parenthetical expressions followed by “or”
We can meet either at the park, which is perfect for a stroll, or at the coffee shop.
You can pay with cash, of course, or with a credit card.

When not to use a comma before “or”

As a conjunction, “or” can be used to connect various words, like nouns, verbs, and adjectives. When “or” is used to connect two words like these, rather than two independent clauses, no comma is needed.

Examples: “Or” connecting nouns, verbs, and adjectives
Would you like tea , or coffee?
Would you like tea or coffee?

Should I bake a cake , or make cookies?.
Should I bake a cake or make cookies?.

I think we should paint the wall either white , or gray.
I think we should paint the wall either white or gray.

However, it’s usually recommended to include a comma before “or” at the end of lists of three or more items. This is called the Oxford comma or serial comma.

Example: Oxford comma
Should I study art, history, or theater?

When to use a comma after “or”

You should only include a comma after “or” when it is followed by an interrupter, (i.e., a parenthetical expression that adds emphasis or qualifies a statement). A comma should also appear after the interrupter.

Examples: Comma after “or”
You can text me or, if you prefer, call.
You can take the day off or, I suppose, work from home.

Note
Even if a sentence starts with “or,” you shouldn’t put a comma after it unless it’s directly followed by a parenthetical expression.

We can keep going. Or, we can turn back.
We can keep going. Or we can turn back.
We can keep going. Or, if you like, we can turn back.

Worksheet: Comma before “or”

Test your knowledge about when to use a comma before or after “or” with the worksheet below. Add commas wherever you think they are needed. You can then compare your work with the answers and explanations provided.
Do you want to know more about commas, parts of speech, email, or other language topics? Check out some of our other language articles full of examples and quizzes.


US vs UK

Parts of speech

Rhetoric

Gray vs grey

Action verbs

Metaphor

Judgment or judgement

Stative verbs

Simile

Favour or favor

Transitive verbs

Alliteration

Fulfil or fulfill

Verbs

Assonance

Labor or labour

Nouns

Malapropism

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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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