comma before 'so that' [conjunction]: She pulled him to the side so that

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Senior Member
Hello everyone,

I'm wondering when do we use a comma before "so that"?

In other words, what is the difference between using or not using a comma in the following sentences?


She pulled him to the side so that no one else could hear their conversation.

Let's get there early so that we can get good seats.

John translates what people are saying from one language into another, so that they can understand each other.

My pencil fell under my desk, so that I couldn't see it.

George often told stories that weren't true, so that no one believed him when he told about a deer in the school yard.

Source: Sentences excerpted from different dictionaries and other non-dictionary sources.
  • travel-agent

    Senior Member
    I think I got something here

    This 2-page PDF, the following link, tells the difference between "so" and "so that".

    It says that after "so" (meaning, therefore; and for that reason) we have a "main clause" [1] but after "so (that)" (meaning, with the purpose or intention that) we have a "subordinate clause" [2].

    [1] It was dark, so I turned on the lights. [comma needed]
    Here, "so" is a "coordinating conjunction".
    Main Clause + , + so + Main Clause .

    [2] I turned on the lights so (that) I could see better. [no comma needed]
    Here, "so" is a "subordinate conjunction".
    Main Clause + Ø + so that + Subordinate Clause .

    To see the document, download it at the link below.
    Last edited by a moderator:
    travel-agent. That site is accurate. When 'so that' introduces a [following] subordinate clause (as it generally does), no comma should be there. [Clearly, your first three examples.] The issue of the relative importance of the second clause, however, may cloud the issue--IF the second clause seems of equal importance, then a writer might use a comma. In other words, there may be a gray area.

    Of your examples, only the last, I think, falls within this area (in other words, the others should have no comma in my opinion).

    George often told stories that weren't true, so that no one believed him when he told about a deer in the school yard.
    I'd want a comma, in this case, as given. Upon closer inspection, the 'that' is not needed. So we don't have a genuine case of 'so that' preceded by comma. It's best construed as in the first case from the site: 'so' introducing a clause with equal (non-subordinate) status.
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    Yes, the semi-rule seems to be, Where 'so that' just means 'so,' then you are likely dealing with two clauses of equal status {your last, George, example}, hence, generally, a comma before 'so'. I note that in such cases, "so that" or "so" means 'with the result that.'

    With the basic 'true' so that as in your first examples, it means "with the purpose or intention that": He taught so that his students would learn. As already stated, in such cases, the 'so that' clause is subordinate, and (when following) no comma is required (preference for 'no comma').

    I think this will solve the problem. Thanks.


    Senior Member
    So, here, using a comma before "so", depends on the meaning of the conjunction "so":

    I was lost so I bought a street map. (so = and for that reason; therefore; and as a result) [in this case you try to adopt to a situation]

    [Note: If you are wondering why there is no comma before "so" in the example above, I think, I should say, when it's quite clear from the meaning of the sentence and the sentence is short, you may omit the comma. In fact the sentence would be even more correct if you'd say, "I was lost, so I bought a street map." This sentence is from Cambridge Dictionary]

    situation: You are lost.
    what you do to adopt: You buy a street map.

    We were bored with the movie, so we left.

    situation: You are bored.
    what you do to adopt: You leave.

    There are no more chairs available, so you'll have to stand.

    situation: No more chairs.
    what you do to adopt: You have to stand.

    I don't want to go, so I won't.

    situation: Not interested in going.
    what you do to adopt: You will not go.

    But in the case of using "so that" or just "so", as "that" is optional, you do something to get the desired result.

    Like saying, I do A so (that) B happens.

    Here, no comma is needed.

    For example,

    Speak louder so (that) everybody can hear you.

    A: speaking louder
    B: everybody being able to hear you

    I slowed down so that the car behind could overtake.

    A: Slowing down
    B: the car's overtaking

    I try to shop carefully so that no one can take me in.

    A: shopping carefully
    B: not being deceived (take in = deceive)

    You'd better drink something so that you no longer feel thirsty.

    A: drinking something
    B: no longer feeling thirsty

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    Senior Member
    In a nutshell,

    It was cold, so I bought a hot drink. (so = therefore; and for that reason) [comma needed]

    I study hard so (that) I will pass. (so = with the purpose or intention that) [comma not needed]
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