Should a comma go before the word “because”? The short but not-so-sweet answer is: usually not, but sometimes. In the following Writing Tips post, we will cover when you should (and when you shouldn’t) use a comma before the word “because” in a sentence.
When to use a comma before “because”
It can be helpful to remember that, in most cases, it is not necessary to put a comma before the word “because.” Nonetheless, here are cases when a comma is either essential or helpful.
When leaving the comma out could confuse the meaning (commonly in a negative sentence)
It’s generally a good practice to ask yourself if leaving the comma out of a sentence would confuse the reader; if the answer is yes, you likely need a comma. A common case of when a comma before the word “because” is necessary for clarification is in a negative sentence. For example, if you were trying to convey that the reason you did not drive to the gas station was that you were out of gas, adding a comma before “because” in the following sentence makes your intended meaning clear:
I didn’t drive to the gas station, because I was out of gas.
However, if you leave out the comma in the same sentence, your intended meaning could be lost. It could be read as you did drive the gas station, just not because you were out of gas:
I didn’t drive to the gas station because I was out of gas.
Before a clause that adds nonessential information
Another situation when you should add a comma is when you are adding an additional phrase (also called a nonessential clause) to a main point that could otherwise stand on its own:
She will miss dinner, because her train is late, so save her some food.
You can test to determine if a phrase is a nonessential clause by removing it and seeing if the main point remains the same:
She will miss dinner, so save her some food.
If the main point remains the same, it is safe to say that the phrase in question is a nonessential clause and should be preceded by a comma.
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Before (and after) an interrupting word
Finally, commas are necessary before and after interrupting word groups. Interuptors are one or more words that interrupt a main idea. These types of words are usually used to show emotion or emphasis:
I wasn’t able to win the game, because, she was cheating the whole time.
When not to use a comma before “because”
“Because” falls into a group of conjunctions called subordinating conjunctions that serve to connect a main clause, the independent clause, with some extra information, the dependent clause. Unless it is necessary for clarification, you should not add a comma before “before” when it is connecting an independent clause to a dependent clause. Consider the following examples:
I went swimming because it was hot.
I went swimming, because it was hot.
He won the race because he had he had been practicing every morning.
He won the race, because he had he had been practicing every morning.
We returned the computer because it wasn’t working.
We returned the computer, because it wasn’t working.
In all of these examples, a comma should not come before the word “because”.
To sum up, although you usually do not require a comma before “because,” there are a few exceptions: when leaving the comma out might confuse the meaning (typically in a negative sentence), when adding a nonessential clause (a clause that adds nonessential information) to a main point, or before and after an interrupting word. Unless it is necessary for clarity, you shouldn’t put a comma before “because” when it’s being used to connect an independent clause with a dependent clause.
We hope you now feel confident about when to use a comma before “because.” Also, remember you can always send your document to our editing and proofreading team to ensure that not only your commas, but other elements of your grammar and spelling are flawless. You can even try a sample of our services for free. Best of luck in all your writing!