comma before concessive conjunction: is it necessary?


Senior Member
Standard Japanese, Sendaian Japanese
I was looking through a grammar book published here, and noticed a comma was used more often than not as below for conjunctions introducing a subordinate clause. Is it more common than before to use a comma before concessive conjunctions, meaning 'but' --- though, even though, while, although, whereas etc.? Is it getting more common? I've seen 'although' used like so quite often, and in fact, I myself sometimes use it that way just like 'but' regarding it as 'but.' But I don't think I usually see other concessive conjunctions used with a comma before it.

I was late for work, though I got up early.
I must have missed your call, even though I didn't leave the house all day.
Bill is good-natured, while Joe is the very opposite.
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  • 1. Ted is fat but Bob is thin.
    2. Ted is fat, but Bob is thin.
    1. makes the two statements equally important: these are two facts. The pause suggested by the comma in 2. seems to add a rhetorical twist, which may include a suggestion that either the part before the comma or the part after is "concessive".
    I may be naive but I always see a comma as a short pause provided as an aid to reading in the way that the writer intended to speak. This, at least, would explain the comma's appearance/non-appearance before concessive conjunctions.
    Thanks. I've always thought coordinate concessive conjunctions such as 'but' take a comma or not, depending on whether the author or speaker intends to pause or not, and subordinate concessive conjunctions such as 'while' do not take a comma before them, except for 'although.'... Do they also take it? It may be that they do and the tendency is getting more pronounced today when you regard it as synonymous as but???
    My first thoughts (without any research) are that people are becoming increasingly desirous of inflecting their written work with pauses, emphasise, ellipses, and interrogatives so as to imitate their speech patterns. I don't see much wrong with this trend, except when used excessively. (Oh, a concessive comma!)

    I think your suggestion of a comma = but, which replaces the following preposition, is not unreasonable as a guide.
    I think your suggestion of a comma = but, which replaces the following preposition, is not unreasonable as a guide.
    Thanks, Paul. 'which replaces the following preposition'? You mean conjunction? What I meant was more like comma + subordinate concessive conjunction = comma + but.
    I just have to chime in to say that the common prescriptive rule for comma usage is that when an independent clause is connected to an dependent clause that is introduced by a subordinating conjunction a comma is not used to separate the two clauses. HSS, according to that rule, the original sentences you provided would not have commas in them. However, when two independent clauses are connected using a coordinating conjunction like "but", then a comma is used to separate the two clauses. This is my understanding of the commonly used prescriptive rules for using commas in these instances.

    PaulQ, I think what you mentioned above in #5 is related to describing how people use commas and why they do that, is that right? You weren't specifically getting at what the "prescriptive rules" of comma usage are, right? I think that's a good point, people use the tools of language, including commas, to create meaning and express ideas.

    Just to let you know, I hate commas! After years of writing they still trip me up!
    I think there are various "prescriptions"out there for the use of commas and consequently quite a bit of variation on these themes. Just look at the issue of the "Oxford" comma (a.k.a the "Harvard" comma) and check out a typical legal document that seems to take joy in eschewing the use of commas in the (vain, in my opinion) hope of reducing ambiguity paying the price in frequent impenetrability of meaning! Often, it seems that this issue is covered in "style" guides rather than the stronger documents in the punctuation pharmacop(o)eia. All I can say is that I don't sympathize with comma extremists :D
    "I have spent most of the day putting in a comma and the rest of the day taking it out." — Oscar Wilde.

    Yes, I am addressing the common use of the comma and find it hard to support prescriptive rules above clarity of meaning, on the occasions where the two might conflict. se16teddy (#2 above) commented on an example with and without the comma and the nuance that the comma gave.

    As a teaching aid, your advice is precise and excellent and should be followed. Once released from the classroom, I think the rule is proximity to the spoken word, as intended by the writer.