Commas When Using 'Instead' or 'Instead of'

At the beginning of a sentence, use a comma after the conjunctive adverb "instead" to indicate that it modifies the whole sentence that follows.

At the beginning of a sentence, use a comma after the conjunctive adverb "instead" to indicate that it modifies the whole sentence that follows.

He didn't buy a large car. Instead, he bought a smaller vehicle.

In the middle of a sentence, you can optionally set off "instead" with commas to stress a pause.

My father wanted me to study architecture. I decided, instead, to become a software engineer.

At the start of a sentence, the preposition "instead of" introduces a prepositional phrase (e.g., "instead of eating pizza"). In this situation, place a comma if the phrase contains five or more words (or the comma makes the sentence clearer).

Instead of ordering a salad with your meal, try a pumpkin soup.

Instead of going to school, I spent the whole day in bed.

1. Commas Before and After 'Instead'

"Instead" means "as an alternative" or "in place of someone/something else".

There's no tea. Would you like a cup of coffee instead?

Conjunctive adverbs, such as "instead", can be moved within a clause, so you can say:

Instead, I'll buy the red shirt.

I'll buy instead the red shirt.

I'll buy the red shirt instead.

1.1 At the start of sentence

At the start of a sentence, "instead" should be followed by a comma to signal that the adverb describes not only the word that follows but also the complete clause or sentence that follows. For example:

I wanted to visit Spain. Instead, we went to Italy because my wife wanted to explore Florence and Rome.

My father wants me to repair the old computer. Instead, I'll buy a new laptop.

1.2 In mid-sentence

In the middle or at the end of a sentence, you can optionally set off "instead" with commas to indicate a strong interruption or clarify the meaning of a sentence (avoid confusion).

I think that the European market is promising. My boss, instead, thinks that we should focus on the Asian market.

In many situations, however, commas are unnecessary around "instead" in the middle (or at the end) of a sentence.

My financial advisor thinks that I should invest in gold, but I decided to buy stocks instead since gold prices were too high.

I regret marrying Sarah. I should have married Olivia instead.

2. How to punctuate 'Instead of' Correctly

As a preposition, "instead of" must not be separated from the noun, pronoun, or noun phrase that follows.

I would like to go to Paris instead of visiting Rome.

I would like to go to Paris instead of, visiting Rome.

Be aware that "instead" is not used alone as a preposition.

Instead of pasta I would like to have a pizza.

Prepositions, like "instead of", can be followed by:

  • a noun (e.g., "instead of Mary"),
  • a pronoun (e.g., "instead of her"), or
  • a phrase (e.g., "instead of playing tennis near home").

We do not always need a comma after "instead of..." when followed by a noun or pronoun.

I'll have a piece of carrot cake instead of pudding.

You can plant flowers along the low hedges, or instead of them.

2.1 At the start of sentence

We usually add a comma after an introductory phrase, like "instead of", in the following situations:

  • after prepositional phrases of five or more words,
  • to avoid confusion, or
  • when a series of prepositional phrases starts the sentence.

For example, the following prepositional phrases contain five or more words.

Instead of going to lunch, I went for a walk and had a chat with some friends.

Instead of eating french fries, you should have something light before the main dish.

The following example contains two prepositional phrases at the start of the sentence.

Instead of meat, during periods of extreme food shortages, people tend to eat food that they normally do not consider edible.

2.2 In mid-sentence

In mid-sentence (or at the end of a sentence), you should enclose a phrase introduced by "instead of" in commas if the information is parenthetic or nonessential; that is, when introducing information that can be used as an aside.

I went with my friend to a Japanese restaurant, instead of going to the movies, and enjoyed an exceptional menu.

Deciding whether a brief phrase is or not essential is not always easy. However, if the interruption of the sentence flow is slight, the commas may be safely omitted.

You should eat more fruit instead of candy because you've been gaining weight lately.

In other words, you can add commas or omit them. But whether the interruption is brief or notable, never skip one comma and leave the other.

I prefer to play video games, instead of watching TV before going to bed.

I prefer to play video games, instead of watching TV, before going to bed.

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