Do You Put a Comma After “Once”?

Understanding the proper use of commas in sentences beginning with or containing the word “once” can significantly impact the clarity and readability of your writing. This article will explore the guidelines for using commas after “once,” including when it’s necessary and when it can be omitted. We’ll provide clear examples for each rule to help you grasp the concept effectively.

When to Use a Comma After “Once”

Rule 1: Starting a Sentence

Correct Usage:

  • Once, I visited the Grand Canyon on a school trip.
  • Once, she believed she could change the world.

Incorrect Usage:

  • Once I visited the Grand Canyon on a school trip.
  • Once she believed she could change the world.

Explanation: When “once” begins a sentence and introduces a time or an event in the past, it’s often followed by a comma to separate the introductory phrase from the main clause.

Rule 2: Indicating When Something Happened

Correct Usage:

  • She called me once, in the middle of the night.
  • He mentioned it once, during the meeting.

Incorrect Usage:

  • She called me once in the middle of the night.
  • He mentioned it once during the meeting.

Explanation: If “once” specifies when an action occurred and is part of a longer phrase that adds information, a comma can clarify the separation of ideas.

Rule 3: “Once” as a Conjunction

Correct Usage:

  • Once you finish your homework, you can watch TV.
  • Once the cake is done, let it cool for ten minutes.

Incorrect Usage:

  • Once, you finish your homework, you can watch TV.
  • Once, the cake is done, let it cool for ten minutes.

Explanation: When “once” is used as a conjunction meaning “as soon as,” do not use a comma immediately after “once.” However, a comma before the main clause is standard.

Rule 4: “Once” in the Middle of a Sentence

Correct Usage:

  • I’ve only been to Paris once, and I fell in love with it.
  • He mentioned, once, that he’d like to learn to fly.

Incorrect Usage:

  • I’ve only been to Paris once and, I fell in love with it.
  • He mentioned once that he’d like to learn to fly.

Explanation: If “once” is used in the middle of a sentence for emphasis or as an aside, it can be set off with commas. Otherwise, avoid unnecessary commas that could disrupt the flow.

Rule 5: Emphasizing “Once”

Correct Usage:

  • I, once, had a dream like that.
  • You, once, told me you’d never leave.

Incorrect Usage:

  • I once, had a dream like that.
  • You once, told me you’d never leave.

Explanation: When emphasizing “once” to highlight a specific instance or time, it can be enclosed with commas. However, this usage is stylistic and may vary depending on the context.

Rule 6: “Once” for Conditions

Correct Usage:

  • Once approved, your application will be processed.
  • Once finished, the painting will be magnificent.

Incorrect Usage:

  • Once, approved, your application will be processed.
  • Once, finished, the painting will be magnificent.

Explanation: When “once” introduces a conditional clause, do not place a comma directly after “once.” The comma should come after the condition.

Rule 7: Avoiding Commas for Fluidity

Correct Usage:

  • Once you see it you can’t unsee it.
  • Once he starts talking it’s hard to stop him.

Incorrect Usage:

  • Once, you see it, you can’t unsee it.
  • Once, he starts talking, it’s hard to stop him.

Explanation: Avoid using commas when they would unnecessarily break the flow of a sentence, especially in cases where “once” is used more fluidly without introducing a significant pause or shift.

Read More: Do You Use a Comma With “Neither…Nor”?

Rule 8: “Once” in Lists

Correct Usage:

  • We visited Paris once, Rome twice, and London three times.
  • I’ve tried sushi once, but I prefer ramen.

Incorrect Usage:

  • We visited Paris, once, Rome twice, and London three times.
  • I’ve tried sushi, once, but I prefer ramen.

Explanation: When “once” is part of a list or sequence of events, place commas according to standard list punctuation rules, not immediately following “once.”

Rule 9: “Once” for Specific Instances

Correct Usage:

  • He said, “Once in a lifetime opportunities should be seized.”
  • “Once upon a time,” she began her story.

Incorrect Usage:

  • He said “Once, in a lifetime opportunities should be seized.”
  • “Once, upon a time,” she began her story.

Explanation: When “once” introduces a phrase or quotation, it’s treated as part of the quoted material, not requiring a comma immediately after within the quotes.

Rule 10: Clarifying Time Phrases

Correct Usage:

  • Once in the 1990s, technology took a significant leap.
  • Once in a blue moon, we see something truly spectacular.

Incorrect Usage:

  • Once, in the 1990s technology took a significant leap.
  • Once, in a blue moon we see something truly spectacular.

Explanation: When “once” is used with time expressions to indicate a specific period or rarity, a comma after “once” helps separate the time phrase for clarity.

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