Should I use a comma before "but"? This is a compound predicate, but the two verbs are in contrast with each other.

She smiles but still hesitates...
She smiles, but still hesitates...

  • 2
    Unless you have reason for your listener or reader to pause before but, omit the comma. If you think it sounds better with a pause, insert the comma. (Note that in the sentence above, the comma after but is required for the reader to understand the meaning.) Apr 11 at 15:31
  • As an example context that isn't so likely to feature a pause before but, consider the dozens of written instances of I heard but didn't see {something}. As a rule of thumb, if the two elements before and after but are short, and/or are "naturally contrastive", the audience / reader is less likely to need a pause or comma to help parse the utterance. Also note that there's a general trend towards less / "lighter" punctuation today - so when in doubt, it's probably best to leave the comma out. Apr 11 at 15:55
  • Unless you're a journalist or writing something academic, there's no hard and fast rule about commas before "but". It's up to you whether you want the reader to pause there. Personally, I nearly always use a comma before "but" and I teach my English students to do so. In your example sentence too I would use a comma.
    – gotube
    Apr 11 at 17:50

1 Answer 1


There is certainly no shortage of guidance for using commas in English. You'll hear people advocating for everything from "use them only when required" to "use them whenever you feel like it". That being said . . .

There is generally no need for a comma when connecting two items in series:

She smiles but still hesitates when ordering dessert.

However, if the second item is nonrestrictive (or parenthetical--see what I'm doing here?), then it and the preceding conjunction may be surrounded with paired punctuation:

She smiles, but still hesitates, when ordering dessert.
She smiles (but still hesitates) when ordering dessert.
She smiles--but still hesitates--when ordering dessert.

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