Commas and Conjunctive Adverbs

At the start of a clause or a sentence, conjunctive adverbs should be preceded by a semicolon (or a period) and followed by a comma. The comma is a signal that the adverb modifies (describes) the whole sentence or clause that follows.

At the start of a clause or a sentence, conjunctive adverbs should be preceded by a semicolon (or a period) and followed by a comma. The comma is a signal that the adverb modifies (describes) the whole sentence or clause that follows.

He is my boss; therefore, I should help him understand what I'm doing and why.

When connecting two ideas, we generally place conjunctive adverbs between commas in mid-sentence.

I am a firm believer, moreover, in promoting equal opportunities.

When using a conjunctive adverb to interrupt a single sentence or clause (rather than join two clauses), avoid commas if you are not stressing a pause or signaling a strong interruption.

She is indeed my best friend.

1. How to Punctuate Conjunctive Adverbs (General Rule)

Conjunctive adverbs are used to connect two complete ideas or thoughts. As a general rule, at the start of a sentence (or an independent clause), conjunctive adverbs should be preceded by a period (or a semicolon) and followed by a comma.

I like playing volleyball. However, my favorite sport is soccer.

My sister is determined and cheerful; by contrast, my brother is indecisive and shy.

The comma after the conjunctive adverb is a signal that it modifies not a single word but a complete sentence or clause. Consequently, it functions as a sentence adverb and should be followed by a comma.

Therefore, she should be under proper adult supervision.

Unlike subordinating conjunctions, conjunctive adverbs can be moved within a clause; thus, they can come in the middle or at the end of a sentence.

Some humanitarian organizations, consequently, provided swift and efficient humanitarian assistance.

In the middle or at the end of a sentence, we generally use commas to separate a conjunctive adverb from the rest of the sentence.

The situation is becoming worse. Last month, for example, the company lost $2.3 million.

But there are exceptions.

2. Exceptions and Related Notes

2.1 No comma When the Adverb Is a Regular Adverb (Not a Conjunctive Adverb)

Conjunctive adverbs can also function as regular adverbs to modify a single word (instead of a complete sentence or clause). In such a situation, we do not generally use a comma to separate an adverb from the word it describes.

I need to know the details of the charges against her and act accordingly.

2.2 No Comma If the Conjunctive Adverb Falls Between the Noun and the Main Verb

We do not often add commas when a conjunctive adverb falls between a noun and the main verb of a clause or sentence.

She therefore is my best friend.

Use commas, however, to stress a pause or add emphasis.

I wanted to buy stocks. My wife, by contrast, decided to invest in gold.

2.3 Optional Commas After Single-word Adverbs of Time

While commas follow most of these transition words at the start of a sentence, you can skip them with single-word adverbs of time, such as "afterward", "meanwhile", or "then".

Afterward we went to the movies.

2.4 The Comma is Optional After 'Therefore', 'Indeed', and 'Of course'

As mentioned above, we should use a comma after a conjunctive adverb at the beginning of a sentence; however, some style guides say that you can skip the comma after transition words such as "therefore", "indeed", or "of course" if the meaning of the sentence is clear.

Avocados are a great source of vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. Therefore I decided to add them to my diet.

Of course she is great.

But always add a comma if the conjunctive adverb is followed by a dependent clause or a question.

Of course, if you need any help, just call our customer service.

Indeed, are you going to lead the project?

2.5 No Comma If the Interruption is Weak

Instead of connecting two clauses or sentences, conjunctive adverbs may be used to interrupt a clause or sentence.

I would like, indeed, to express our sincere thanks to the President.

In a sentence like this, we only use commas to signal a strong interruption or stress a pause.

I am a firm believer, moreover, in public transparency.

No comma is necessary if the interruption is weak.

The manager therefore decided to attend the meeting.

In general, set off the following conjunctive adverbs with commas in mid-sentence since they are commonly used to stress a pause, introduce a list of items, or include nonessential information:

  • however
  • namely
  • similarly
  • for example
  • for instance

I'd like to visit some European countries, namely, Spain and Italy.

In particular, the conjunctive adverb "however" always signals a strong interruption and should be surrounded by commas.

I think, however, that it is important to follow your doctor's orders.

Punctuating conjunctive adverbs, however, is not always easy.

3. List of the Most Common Conjunctive Adverbs and Examples

3.01 'Namely' and 'Specifically'

We use transition words such as "namely" or "specifically" to provide further details about something we have just said.

I am interested in learning Japanese; namely, I'd like to be able to speak Japanese by phone.

Set off "namely" and "specifically" with commas in mid-sentence to join two clauses, interrupt the sentence flow, or add nonessential information.

I need to buy a new car, specifically, a hybrid electric vehicle.

3.02 'For example' and 'For instance'

When interrupting the sentence flow or introducing a series of items, "for example" and "for instance" should always be surrounded by commas in mid-sentence.

You can make, for example, chicken fried rice, for dinner.

At the start of a sentence or an independent clause, these connectors should be preceded by a period or a semicolon as well as followed by a comma.

Bring any three foods; for example, pears, avocados, and wine are in short supply.

3.03 'However', 'Nevertheless', 'Though', and 'Nonetheless'

Use a comma after "however", "nevertheless", or "nonetheless" to introduce a sentence or an independent clause.

I worked really hard; nevertheless, I didn't get any recognition.

In the middle of a sentence, these transition words always signal a strong interruption, so use commas to separate them from the rest of the sentence.

I prefer, however, playing chess with my friends than watching TV shows.

But avoid commas when using "however" to express "to whatever degree" or "no matter how".

Olivia cannot get it however hard she tries.

3.04 'After all'

In the middle of a sentence, we typically enclose "after all" in commas when meaning "because" or "despite problems or doubts".

I must admit, after all, that she is right.

When using "after all" in its literal sense, however, it should not be followed by a comma.

After all these years, I have very fond memories of Miami.

3.05 'By contrast' and 'In contrast'

At the start of a sentence, use a comma after "by contrast" or "in contrast" to describe a clear difference between two things.

Vietnam is experiencing a rapid growth. By contrast, other Asian economies are struggling.

Place these phrases between commas in mid-sentence to signal an interruption or add nonessential information.

I don't like Rebecca. Emma, by contrast, is my best friend.

But do not add commas when adding restrictive information (necessary to understand the meaning of a sentence).

That was in contrast to the success she enjoyed last year.

3.06 'Indeed' and 'In fact'

"Indeed" and "in fact" are often followed by commas at the start of a sentence.

Indeed, I think that we should ask for help.

In the middle of a sentence, we can optionally use a comma before and after "indeed" (or "in fact") to stress a pause or signal a strong interruption.

She was indeed one of my best friends.

James was, indeed, acting like a child.

3.07 'On the contrary'

"On the contrary" or "to the contrary" are typically used to deny a previous statement. Use a comma before and/or after "on the contrary" to separate it from the rest of the sentence.

My wife loves Mexican food; my daughter, on the contrary, hates it.

3.08 'Therefore', 'Hence', 'Consequently', 'As a result', and 'Thus'

The adverbs "therefore", "consequently", "as a result", etc. are generally followed by a comma at the start of a sentence to indicate that they modify a complete sentence or clause.

The country was experiencing an economic decline; therefore, the central bank decided to lower interest rates.

When using these connectors in the middle of a sentence, we do not always use commas.

Sales therefore have remained low.

But you can use them to stress a pause.

Commodity prices are falling. The emerging markets, as a result, are at risk.

3.09 'Moreover', 'Furthermore', 'In addition', and 'Besides'

Use a comma after "moreover", "furthermore", "in addition", and "besides" to connect two ideas or thoughts.

Vegetables are a good source of vitamins and minerals. Moreover, they help promote the growth of friendly intestinal bacteria.

3.10 'Similarly' and 'Likewise'

As a conjunctive adverb, when describing a complete sentence or clause, we add a comma after "similarly" or "likewise" at the beginning of a sentence.

Spain experienced an economic decline last year. Similarly, Greece was in a recession.

When functioning as a regular adverb, which modifies a single word (verb, adjective, or adverb), do not use a comma to separate "similarly" or "likewise" from the word it describes.

The two projects are similarly structured.

The two projects are similarly, structured.

3.11 'Finally' and 'In conclusion'

As mentioned above, conjunctive adverbs, such as "finally" and "in conclusion", are usually followed by a comma at the beginning of a sentence.

In conclusion, including avocados in your diet may improve your health and help reduce the risk of some diseases.

3.12 'In other words'

Insert a comma after "in other words" to introduce a new sentence or clause that repeats in a different way what has been previously said.

My brother has bought a luxury car and an expensive suit; in other words, he is a big spender.

3.13 'In particular'

We use a comma after "in particular" to describe a complete sentence or clause.

Olivia likes team sports. In particular, she enjoys playing soccer and basketball.

When using this conjunctive adverb in the middle of a sentence, we do not frequently set it off with commas. Optionally, however, you can add them to stress a pause or signal a strong interruption.

3.14 'Afterward', 'Then', and 'Subsequently'

While commas follow most of these conjunctive adverbs at the start of a sentence, you can omit the commas with single-word adverbs of time, such as "afterward" or "then".

We played video games; afterward we went to the movies.

Optionally, you can enclose these words in commas to signal a strong interruption.

3.15 'Instead'

At the start of a sentence, use a comma after "instead" to signal that it modifies the complete sentence or clause that follows.

My sister didn't buy a house. Instead, she rented an apartment.

In the middle of a sentence, you can optionally use a comma before and after the conjunctive adverb "instead" to signal a strong interruption.

3.16 'Now'

Do not place a comma after "now" to describe "when" something happens.

Now I need to go to the library.

But put a comma when using "now" as a discourse marker to help you organize your thoughts before the main part of a sentence.

Now, considering the situation, you should do it as soon as possible.

3.17 'Meanwhile'

We can optionally use a comma before and after "meanwhile" to stress a pause in the middle of a sentence.

The children were meanwhile playing video games.

She was, meanwhile, doing the laundry.

3.18 'Regardless'

At the beginning of a sentence, add a comma after "regardless" to indicate that this conjunctive adverb describes a clause or sentence.

I told him not to go to the party. Regardless, my son always does what he wants.

3.19 'Of course'

We do not always add commas before and/or after "of course", but you can use them to signal a strong interruption or include parenthetic information.

Sarah is of course my best friend.

We should, of course, attend the meeting.

3.20 'Still'

At the start of a sentence, we include a comma after "still" when meaning "nevertheless".

My girlfriend is mad at me; still, I know that she loves me.

When using it as a regular adverb, do not use a comma to separate "still" from the verb, adjective, or adverb it describes.

I am still hungry.

3.21 'Accordingly'

Do not use a comma after "accordingly" when modifying a single word.

The meeting is important, and you should act accordingly.

But add a comma after "accordingly" to introduce and describe a sentence or clause.

My sister was caught at nearly 110mph; accordingly, she got a ticket for speeding.

3.22 'Incidentally'

We add a comma after "incidentally" at the start of a sentence or a clause when meaning "by the way".

Japanese food is delicious. Incidentally, it is healthier than other western cuisines.

We do not use commas, however, when using "incidentally" as a regular verb (typically to remark on a coincidence).

The problem was incidentally found by following the instructions.

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