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“and” or “but” followed by a comma

In recent years I’ve noticed an increasing use of “and” or “but” followed by a comma, as in this example I saw today in an email: “We don’t believe these updates change our practices but, we want to communicate this information directly to you.” The rationale seems to be that a pause is intended after the conjunction, but clearly this violates the traditional rule about punctuating a compound sentence (as per this sentence).

In today’s Providence Journal the lead editorial, ”Tough but vague Romney,” includes this: “Mr. Romney has demanded that Iran stop its program aimed at making nuclear weapons and suggested the [sic] Mr. Obama hasn’t been firm enough. But, the former governor hasn’t said how he would do that other than, perhaps, give more support to the Israelis to attack Iran.”

I realize the paper’s evident lack of sufficient proofreading might cloud the issue here, but [not "here but,"] I assure you this is not uncommon in today’s newspaper and other published writing.

So does this bother anyone else besides me?

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Yes, it bothers me big time. The logical structure of the sentence has a strong natural break before the conjunction. It's certainly a stronger break than what comes after the conjunction. If a comma is place after a conjunction, ideally there should be a semicolon before it.

My biggest peeve is when a comma is placed after "therefore", but not before.

Example: "I completed the project before the deadline and therefore, I started working on another one." Uggghhh!

bubbha August 6, 2012, 9:09pm

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Actually, bubbha, I don't like what's become typical of writers today, using "therefore" after a comma rather than after a semicolon (and then omitting the comma after "therefore"). E.g., "I don't like either candidate, therefore I won't vote." Should be: "I don't like either candidate; therefore, I won't vote." Grammar Girl has a good paragraph on this--until, in my opinion, at the very end:

>> Finally, you use a semicolon when you use a conjunctive adverb to join two main clauses. Conjunctive adverbs are words such as however, therefore, and indeed, and they "usually show cause and effect, sequence, contrast, comparison, or other relationships" (1). For example, “The aardvark is on vacation; therefore, Squiggly has to carry the weight in this episode.” (The comma after the conjunctive adverb is optional.) <<

I think a slight pause is implied after "therefore" used this way, and that's what the comma provides.

Here is, getting back to the topic, another "And," example. In a story by a reporter for the Miami Herald I found published today, August 14, 2012: "He [Usain Bolt] is, arguably, the greatest sprinter of all-time [sic]. And, he certainly is the greatest showman."

So that's hyphen misuse and the foolish "And," within two sentences. Whatever happened to the veteran editors who used to catch this stuff from reporters?

providencejim August 14, 2012, 3:32pm

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Actually, providencejim, when I was in school (loooong ago), I was taught that "but" also should always be preceded by a semicolon and followed by a comma. Times have changed though. No one does this any more with "but". Surely you've noticed the recent trend, even according to authoritative style guides, to simplify and/or eliminate punctuation as much as possible?

porsche August 15, 2012, 5:03am

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porsche, I can agree that getting rid of a rule that mandates a semicolon before "but" and then a comma has been a good thing (and as a retired guy I have to say I never ran into that rule myself). I think simplifying punctuation is fine as long as it doesn't lose useful information in the communication process. Commas and semicolons help readers when used intelligently and hinder them when not. And it seems to me that many writers use "therefore" and "however" when a simple "so" or "but" would do the job (and a preceding comma is then perfectly OK).

I think the popularity of Lynne Truss's book _Eats Shoots and Leaves_ is evidence that I am not alone in decrying the loss of respect for correct use of the comma (and the semicolon as well).

providencejim August 15, 2012, 6:18am

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Oops, how embarrassing--I left out the comma in the title of Lynne Truss's book, _Eats, Shoots & Leaves_ (and the ampersand).

providencejim August 15, 2012, 6:24am

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Porsche, are you perhaps British because I've seen British authors use the semicolon before but and the comma after it?

Jasper August 15, 2012, 7:23am

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No Jasper, born and bred in New York, US of A.

porsche August 16, 2012, 6:15am

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Look, there are rules about comma placement that make a lot of sense. They are modern American rules; don't get confused with U.K. punctuation, which is slightly different. There were also fewer guidelines in the 19th century. Commas do not go after coordinating conjunctions (for, and, nor, but, or, yet or so) which connect two independent clauses. You should put a comma after therefore, but if it follows an independent clause, then it should likewise be preceded by a comma.

Julia Simpson Urrutia August 30, 2012, 12:05pm

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Julia S. U., concerning your final observation, I learned (and one still sees the rule, as here: that "therefore" and "however" (when used to link independent clauses) require a semicolon before and a comma after. I like that rule as I think a pause greater than a comma's before the second clause makes sense in those instances.

providencejim August 30, 2012, 4:36pm

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To answer the original question - yes, it bothers me.

Thredder September 3, 2012, 10:00pm

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Actually, the comma should come before the conjunction, but the conjunction is unnecessary.

You can have two independent clauses joined by a comma--this is called a 'comma splice,' and is perfectly acceptable in British English, though it is frowned upon in American English.

Here is an example of the proper use of a comma splice: I am writing a sentence, soon I will be speaking a sentence.

Welid September 4, 2012, 3:05pm

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Oh, Welid, the Brits! Here in the US we try to avoid comma splices but they (you?) just keep using them ;-). If one checks the Wikipedia entry on the comma splice, one finds this: "Although acceptable in some languages and compulsory in others, comma splices are usually considered style errors in English." Along with Strunk and White, I do not like them (except in the sort of uses mentioned as exceptions in the Wikipedia piece).

And while we're talking about US vs British English, is it universal in GB now to use the plural verb form for all collective nouns, or is it just for sports? For example, in today's online Guardian: "Stoke have confirmed the signing of Michael Owen on a one-year-deal...." Grates on my ear!

providencejim September 4, 2012, 4:46pm

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provincejim - "Stoke have confirmed the signing of Michael Owen on a one-year-deal...." sounds fine to my British ear.
"Stoke has confirmed..." would sound wrong, on the other hand, more like a person or the town of Stoke that did something, not the football team (sorry, soccer team ;) ).

I guess in the US, teams are maybe more often called by their nicknames, "The Rams have played ..." etc., but if you look on various forums and boards, there are lots of US examples of, "Dallas have drafted...." or "Chicago have drafted..." etc., so it's not just a British thing.... but maybe is a sports thing.

Thredder September 5, 2012, 9:18pm

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"That team are signing Michael Owen on a one-year-deal..."
Sounds good to me!

id September 6, 2012, 12:42pm

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Thredder and id: I guess if you've always heard something said one way, it'll sound OK. I was taught that collective nouns (like team, and by extension I think, a team known by its city's name) take either a singular or plural verb, depending on a (usually) simple test: Is the group acting as one or as many? "The team is doing well this season" vs "The team are running around and falling all over themselves." Or, if you will, "Stoke has confirmed" because it's an organization acting as one entity.

I have never seen (that I recall) any use of the plural verb in the US press in reference to a team named in part for its city or region: "Boston needs to consider firing Valentine" not "Boston need to consider." "The Yankees have signed Joe Blow" but "New York has signed." Seems a useful distinction to me!

providencejim September 6, 2012, 5:05pm

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"That team are running around and falling all over themselves."

That sentence just doesn't sound right even though we are following providnecejim's simple test of the group acting as one or many.

JohnsonJackson September 8, 2012, 10:59am

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JohnsonJackson: I agree it doesn't "sound right," even though it's perfectly correct English, probably because we'd rather hear "The guys on the team are running around and falling all over themselves" (unless you're a Boston Red Sox fan, in which case you'd be sick and tired of hearing stuff like that).

My mystification is over the fact that British English seems to have done away with the notion that a collective noun should take a singular verb when the noun refers to a group acting as one. Or perhaps that's just the case in writing or speaking about sports teams?

providencejim September 8, 2012, 11:48am

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@providencejim Is it perfectly correct English? I may be behind on this issue, but since when do collective nouns take plural verbs? That just sounds horrible. It is definitely not accepted in the spoken or written mainstream of the states or Canada as far as I know. Is there maybe a distinction between collectives that are mass vs. quantity groups? For example, if I lose one apple of the four I have, I have "fewer" apples, but if I spill some applesauce from the jar, I have "less" applesauce.

For the sake of academic argument alone, I would only venture to guess that this would be the correct form for that sentence: "That team is running around and falling all over itself." Like providencejim mentioned, breaking the subject out into more detail and adding the prepositional phrase circumvents the risk of either being called out as incorrect or sounding just plain silly.

Cymric September 17, 2012, 6:01am

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@Cymrie: According to what I learned in numerous English classes and what I see at online grammar sites, a sentence like my "The team are running around and falling all over themselves" IS correct grammar. Just one example: "The team are always fighting amongst themselves" at It's ironic that you question using plural verbs with collective nouns, as that's exactly what I've questioned in British media writing ("Stoke have confirmed the signing of Michael Owen").

Your rewrite of my "team" sentence, using the singular verb, strikes me as odd, raising an image of a mass of players somehow falling as one unit. Again, although my example is correct it sounds awkward, so a better rewrite would be "The guys on the team are running around and falling all over themselves." (But now I need to add that fans of the New England Patriots would not want to hear that repeated, after their most recent loss.)

providencejim September 17, 2012, 7:44am

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Yes     No