Do You Use a Comma With “Not Only…But Also”?

The “not only…but also” construction is a correlative conjunction that adds emphasis and balance to parallel elements in sentences. It can link words, phrases, or clauses. The use of commas with “not only…but also” can sometimes be confusing.

This guide will clarify when to use commas with this construction, providing rules and examples for clearer understanding.

When to Use Commas

Rule 1: Linking Independent Clauses

Linking Independent Clauses

Correct Usage:

  • Not only did she finish her work on time, but she also helped her colleagues with theirs.
  • He not only passed the test, but he also scored the highest in his class.

Incorrect Usage:

  • Not only did she finish her work on time but she also helped her colleagues with theirs.
  • He not only passed the test but he also scored the highest in his class.

Explanation: When “not only…but also” links two independent clauses (each could stand as a sentence on its own), a comma is typically used before “but also.”

Rule 2: No Comma for Short, Parallel Elements

Correct Usage:

  • She is interested not only in painting but also in sculpture.
  • The policy affects not only employees but also customers.

Incorrect Usage:

  • She is interested not only in painting, but also in sculpture.
  • The policy affects not only employees, but also customers.

Explanation: When the elements linked by “not only…but also” are short and parallel (like two words or two short phrases), you don’t need a comma.

Rule 3: Beginning of a Sentence

 Beginning of a Sentence

Correct Usage:

  • Not only is he a talented artist, but he is also an excellent teacher.
  • Not only do they offer free shipping, but they also provide discounts.

Incorrect Usage:

  • Not only is he a talented artist but he is also an excellent teacher.
  • Not only do they offer free shipping but they also provide discounts.

Explanation: If “not only” begins a sentence and is followed by an inversion (verb before subject), use a comma before “but also.”

Rule 4: With Additional Information

Correct Usage:

  • She bought a car, not only for commuting but also for road trips.
  • They planned the event, not only to raise funds but also to increase awareness.

Incorrect Usage:

  • She bought a car not only for commuting, but also for road trips.
  • They planned the event not only to raise funds, but also to increase awareness.

Explanation: When “not only…but also” is used to add non-essential information or afterthoughts, place a comma before “not only.”

Rule 5: Emphasis on “But Also” Part

Correct Usage:

  • The movie was, not only entertaining, but also educational.
  • The course is, not only challenging, but also rewarding.

Incorrect Usage:

  • The movie was not only, entertaining but also educational.
  • The course is not only challenging, but also rewarding.

Explanation: To emphasize the contrast or addition provided by “but also,” enclose “not only” and the element it modifies with commas, especially in longer sentences.

Rule 6: Avoiding Commas for Direct Contrast

Avoiding Commas for Direct Contrast

Correct Usage:

  • The app is designed not only for beginners but also for advanced users.
  • This book is suitable not only for children but also for adults.

Incorrect Usage:

  • The app is designed, not only for beginners, but also for advanced users.
  • This book is suitable, not only for children, but also for adults.

Explanation: When directly contrasting two elements without additional information or complexity, commas are usually not necessary.

Rule 7: In Lists

Correct Usage:

  • The seminar will cover, not only marketing and sales, but also customer service and product development.
  • The diet recommends eating, not only fruits and vegetables, but also whole grains and nuts.

Incorrect Usage:

  • The seminar will cover not only, marketing and sales, but also customer service and product development.
  • The diet recommends eating not only, fruits and vegetables, but also whole grains and nuts.

Explanation: When “not only…but also” is part of a list that separates complex items, use a comma before “not only.”

Read More: Do You Put a Comma Before or After “Please”?

Rule 8: With Nested Clauses

Correct Usage:

  • The teacher explained, not only how to solve the problem, but also why the solution works.
  • The contract specifies, not only the duties and responsibilities, but also the rights of the employees.

Incorrect Usage:

  • The teacher explained not only, how to solve the problem, but also why the solution works.
  • The contract specifies not only, the duties and responsibilities, but also the rights of the employees.

Explanation: When “not only…but also” introduces clauses with additional details or explanations, a comma before “not only” can help clarify the sentence structure.

Rule 9: Avoiding Commas with Simple Conjunctions

Correct Usage:

Incorrect Usage:

  • The program benefits, not only students, but also educators.
  • The offer applies, not only to new customers, but also to returning ones.

Explanation: In simple conjunctions without inversion or added complexity, commas are unnecessary.

Rule 10: Clarity and Readability

Correct Usage:

  • For clarity, not only in writing but also in speaking, consider your audience.
  • Effective communication requires, not only clarity but also conciseness and coherence.

Incorrect Usage:

  • For clarity not only, in writing but also in speaking, consider your audience.
  • Effective communication requires not only, clarity but also conciseness and coherence.

Explanation: Use commas to enhance clarity and readability, especially in longer sentences where “not only…but also” structures add complexity.

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