I always thought that when but introduced a clause like "I am hungry", there was always a comma before the word "but", but it doesn't seem to be the case anymore. Did the grammar rule change or something? Because the way I learned it in school was that it doesn't take a comma when it's followed by a word, but it takes a comma when it introduces a clause regardless it was independent or not.

All of the following examples don't take a comma according to the dictionary:

  1. On the contrary: the plan caused not prosperity but ruin.
  2. Contrary to expectation; yet: She organized her work but accomplished very little. He is tired but happy.
  3. Usage Problem Used to indicate an exception: No one but she saw the prowler.
  4. With the exception that; except that. Often used with that: would have joined the band but he couldn't spare the time; would have resisted but that they lacked courage.
  5. Informal Without the result that: It never rains but it pours.
  6. Informal That. Often used after a negative: There is no doubt but right will prevail.
  7. That ... not. Used after a negative or question: There never is a tax law presented but someone will oppose it.
  8. Informal Than: They had no sooner arrived but they turned around and left.
  • There are few grammar rules related to commas. There are some common suggestions that improve writing style, but your belief is a common error perpetuated by English teachers who introduce comma "rules", and write tests to make sure students follow them correctly. As you read more, you'll find there's a lot more variation. Commas mirror the natural pauses that occur when spoken out loud, and everyone talks differently.
    – Andrew
    Apr 27, 2019 at 16:45

2 Answers 2


Two independent clauses can be joined by a comma and a coordinating conjunction.

The alarm clock rang, but Mark did not get up.

Don't put a comma before or after a coordinating conjunction that joins two verbs in the same clause:

Nelson is always complaining about not having any friends but is not a friendly person himself.

In other cases 'but' needn't be separated by a comma.

  • There's nothing wrong with "The alarm clock rang but Mark did not get up" -- as you say, the comma is optional. I'm of the opinion that the comma is nearly always optional, despite any made-up rules that say differently.
    – Andrew
    Apr 27, 2019 at 21:53
  • Yes, a comma is optional,but you didn't put it. You have to put a comma because there are two independent clauses.The alarm clock rang(a sentence finished , you got a subject-the alarm clock and a finite verb-rang.)and the other sentence"Mark didn't get up".There are 2 sentences but they joined by 'but'.The alarm clock rang, but Mark didn't get up.
    – Vmir
    May 20, 2019 at 18:49
  • -1 No, sorry. The comma is optional. Period. There is no "have to" about it. Adding it makes the sentence easier to parse, but that's style, not grammar.
    – Andrew
    May 20, 2019 at 23:00

Personally, I prefer the comma preceding an independent clause, particularly a contrary independent clause, as in the alarm-clock example. There is a slight pause before the "but" when one speaks that sentence, and indicating that pause is one of the jobs of the comma. However, my overarching concern is that, recently, it seems that writers are forgetting the entire reason behind language: to impart information. Language puts the onus of clarity on the presenter (speaker/writer) for obvious reasons. Commas help with clarity.

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